Using Plant Identification to Discover Smooth Carrion Flower


Smooth Carrion Flower Bloom

Photo by Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Although I consider my husband and myself vegetable gardeners primarily, Pat and I are plant geeks that need to know the names of all flowers we encounter at home or when traveling. We have a backpack full of identification books that we keep handy, but our first choice for plants in the wild for our location is the Peterson Field Guide for Wildflowers: Northeastern/North-central North America.

Our copy is well thumbed and over 20 years old. We like that it includes both native and alien (think weed) varieties and is arranged by flower color, making it easier to go through the pages of mostly black-and-white sketches to narrow down the search. We can then refer to the descriptions to verify the details like leaf shape, growth habits, and flowering time. After we have a pretty good idea that we've identified the flower, we will search the internet using the Latin name of the plant to find additional pictures and further details from various sources.

Identifying a Vining Mystery Plant

The past couple of summers, we have watched a single-stalked vine grow to 5 feet along our driveway. It had tendrils like a pea but didn't actually cling to anything. Unfortunately, it was always nipped by deer or broken before it flowered.

This year, a vine came up in another part of the property that we had recently "released" by cutting down the invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle shrubs that were infesting it. Along with native plants, from jack-in-the-pulpits to lead plant, we were able to observe this vine flowering for the first time. The flowers are in the leaf axils and look like round broccoli florets and actually have small yellow flowers like broccoli, too.

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