Wild flowers


Wild flowers

Greater yellow rattle Rhinanthus augustifolius © Ita McCobb

All wild flowers are angiosperms. They have evolved on our planet to grow naturally in the wild, developing in an environment that they find conducive to their specific needs.

Wild plants are different to the “cultivated plants” that people grow in their gardens – they are created by nature and not by man.

To achieve the plants we grow in our gardens, specialists have, over the years, taken wild plants and crossbred them with other wild plants or existing garden plants so that certain elements are emphasized.

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Salad burnet Poterium sanguisorba © Ita McCobb

Vascular and non-vascular plants

Wild flowers are mostly vascular plants. They have specialized conducting tissue that allows them to grow in a wide variety of environments and to a greater size than non-vascular plants. Vascular plants are classified into families according to the way they bear seeds, structure of their flowers, fruits and other features they may have in common. (See Plant families.)

Plants are generally described as either trees and shrubs – that is those plants having woody stems (generally non-vascular plants) or herbs – seed-bearing plants, which die down to the ground after flowering.

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Regular flower © Ita McCobb

Regular and irregular flowers

Flowers come in various forms. Some are what are referred to as regular flowers and others are irregular flowers. Regular flowers follow the commonly recognized flower shape (see above). Whereas, in irregular flowers (see below) the sepals and petals are not in regular symmetry – these flower shapes belong to plants such as the dead-nettle, pea and orchid families.

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Irregular flower © Ita McCobb

Wild flower preferred environment

Wild flowers that are indigenous to a country are called native wild flowers. Wild flowers that have been introduced and become established in a country are referred to as nationalized.

Once a wild flower plant has found an environment that it likes it will happily establish itself there and multiply (sometimes voraciously) – which is why many wild flowers are considered to be weeds.

Wild flowers generally flourish in woodlands, moors, hedgerows and the edges of cultivated fields and roadsides, because in more cultivated or managed areas of land they are likely to be destroyed by pesticides or constantly being upturned or flattened.

Many wild flowers are protected species. View a list of those European/UK protected species here.

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Bee pollinating flower © Ita McCobb

Wildflowers and insects

Wild flowers need insects to pollinate them so that they can create seeds; consequently, wild flowers need to attract insects. This is why these flowers have evolved alongside insects to form an inseparable partnership.

Insects are attracted to wild flowers either by the flower’s vivid colour(s) such as those of the Common toadflax Linaria vulgaris, or exotic perfume such as that of Night-scented stock, Evening stock Matthiola longipetala.

Some flowers such as the Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta use both methods to attract insects.

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Bluebells Scilla nonscripta © Ita McCobb

Wild flower classifications and recognition

Plant classifications are constantly being updated. Today, the International Botanical Congress (IBC) is responsible for setting out the principles by which plant names are established. All major organizations, institutions and botanists around the world now follow these principles.

The Wild Flower Key classifies wild flowers into 109 main families: 90 dicotyledons and 19 monocotyledons (a cotyledon is an embryonic leaf in a seed-bearing plant, one or more of which are the first leaves to appear from a germinating seed). Some representative images of wild-flower families.

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References: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London; RHS Gardeners’ encyclopaedia, Christopher Brickell ed., Dorling Kindersley; The Royal Horticultural Society; The Wild Flower Key, Frances Rose (updated by Clare O’Reilly), Warne; Five Additional Tribes (Aphragmeae, Biscutelleae, Calepineae, Conringieae, and Erysimeae) in the Brassicaceae (Cruciferae), Dmitry et al., Harvard Papers in Botany.