How to use this Guide

Using this guide you will quickly be able to identify a flower. There are three ways to search:

  • search for the color and shape of the flower or plant type using images
  • search using words to describe the plant
  • If you are familiar with plant families, there is an alphabetical list of families and all the plants in the family with links to their descriptions

If you are unable to identify the flower in this guide, you can take photographs of it and email me. Please read How to Photograph Wildflowers for Identification for tips. 

Search Using Images

The home page of this guide presents you with 16 photos, each of which represents a group of flowers sharing similar color or form, for example, blue single flowers, yellow round clusters of flowers, or grasses and trees. Click on the image which is closest to the plant that you want to identify and you will see a page of all the flowers in the group. This index gives you an up-close image of the flowers. For a description and another photo of the flower, the whole plant and distinguishing characteristics, click the flower's image.

The decision on whether to designate the form of a flower as round, long or single was not always easy, even the colors were sometimes difficult; yellow or green, pink or red? So if you do not find a flower where you expect it to be, try another group.

The rough definitions for the flower forms are:

  • Single - Flowers that are on a single stem and stand out separately from other flowers, e.g. Blue Flax and Sunflowers
  • Round Clusters - Many, usually small, flowers clustered together in a round or flat shape, e.g.  Wallflower and Rosy Paintbrush
  • Long Clusters - Many flowers clustered either loosely or tightly along a stem, e.g. American Bistort and Fireweed

There is not a large variety of red and orange flowers so I have grouped them all together. Lavender/lilac colored flowers are grouped with blue and purple flowers.

Flowers can appear in more than one group. Some flowers that have a range of colors will appear in the index for both ends of the range, usually white and blue. The flowering trees in the Trees index page also appear in their respective groups by color and form of their flowers.

When there are similar looking flowers in the same family, the most frequently found will be in the group index page, for example, Chiming Bells; when you click on it, you will see three kinds of Chiming Bells.

Name That Flower!

To properly identify a flower you need to consider several details beyond its color and form to differentiate it from look-alike blooms, unless it is truly unique like a Glacier Lily:

  • The size of the flower. Flowers with an * following their name are tiny flowers, less than 1/2 inch across.
  • Its leaves. Quite often the leaves will be what identifies the flower, particularly in the Sunflower and Parsley families. For example, the flowers of Mules Ears and Arrowleaf Balsamroot are similar and they grow in similar habitats, but the large green mule ear-shaped leaves of the former are distinct from the grayish arrow-shaped leaves of the latter.
  • The whole plant form. Whether the stems are branched or not, if the flowers are at the end of a stem or not, if the flowers are alone or in clusters. The flowers and leaves of Orange Sneezeweed and Curly Goldenhead are very similar at some stages of their growth. To distinguish between them, the Orange Sneezeweed has a single flower on stems that are in a cluster while the Curly Goldenhead has a single flower on a single stem.
  • The habitat where you found it. Members of the same family can look alike but grow only in a certain habitat. Tall Chiming Bells requires a moist habitat while its shorter look-alike Lanceleaf Chiming Bells grows in dry places.
  • The altitude you and the flower are at. Altitude relates directly to Life Zones. Some plants only grow in specific life zones, especially alpine plants, while others grow in all zones. The Gunnison Valley of Colorado begins in Almont at 8,000' which is the beginning of the Montane zone but also the end of the Foothills so there are a great variety of plants to be found in this area. From there it is all uphill through the different zones to the alpine environment of the high peaks and passes. Alpine flowers are generally short in stature but have very similar flowers to their cousins found growing in lower altitudes. East of the Continental Divide, the climate is drier so flowers that are found to the west may not be found in the east, and vice versa, at the same altitude. The altitudes given here are approximate, as a sunny south-facing slope will support different plants from a shadowy north-facing one at the same altitude. Where the flowers grow gives more detail and photographs of the life zones covered in this guide.
  • Alpine - above timberline
  • Sub-Alpine - 10,000' to timberline, approx. 11,500'
  • Montane - 8,000' to 10,000'
  • Foothills - 6,000' to 8,000'
  • Plains - 4,000' to 6,000'
  • The time of year. The date the photo was taken will give you an idea of when the flower is in bloom. Some flowers bloom throughout the spring and summer but most are on show for only a week or so in its location but may bloom earlier at a lower elevation or later at a higher elevation.
  • Description. I have added identifying descriptions to most species. I have tried to avoid the use of botanical terms like "aculeate" which means armed with prickles, instead I would say prickly. If you are interested in the vocabulary of botany this Plant Information Center Glossary is useful.

Because I started this project in Colorado, over 50% of the plants were photographed and identified there. If the Location does not say otherwise, it was taken in Colorado; GV denotes the Gunnison Valley.

Noxious Plants

I have included plants that are considered noxious; that is another way of saying weed. I have included them and other non-noxious weeds because they grow in the area and to me a flower is a flower. Noxious weeds are non-native plants that have been introduced and are dominating and crowding out native plant species. The Colorado Department of Agriculture has identified a number of plants as being noxious in Noxious Weed Species. The New Mexico Department of Agriculture has a similar list at Troublesome Weeds of New Mexico. Any noxious plants in this guide are indicated as such by NOXIOUS in their descriptions, for example Spotted Knapweed.

Getting acquainted with the Families

If you have a good memory and a good eye knowing some of the obvious characteristics of the many families of plants will also help identification. Click here to see characteristics of the larger families.

Search Using Words

The most powerful search is using any of the words that are used to describe the plants; their names, family, habitat, life zone, month of bloom, characteristics, etc. The more words you use, the more accurate your search will be. For example, if you type pink, 127 flowers will be found. If you type moist pink, 26 plants will be found, if you add alpine, your search will be narrowed down to 13 flowers.

Some of the words commonly used in the plant descriptions are:

Namescommon, family, scientific
Month in bloomapril, may, june, july, august, etc.
Life Zoneplains, foothills, montane, subalpine, alpine
Habitatmoist, wet, dry
sandy, rocky, gravelly, disturbed, scree, talus
woods, forest, meadow, sagebrush
shady, sunny, hot
trailsides, roadsides, streamsides, slopes
canyons, washes, riverbanks
Characteristicstiny, tall, single, branched, unbranched
tree, shrub, fern, grass
toothed, notched, dissected, nodding, erect
hairy, smelly, fragrant, edible, odor
Colorsblue, purple, lavender, white, pale, pink, red
orange, yellow, green, brown

Finally...

However short your walk in the quest for wildflowers, don't forget sun protection, rain gear, good footwear, water and sometimes bug-spray. Please don't litter. Please do not pick the flowers, however prolific they appear. All the photographs were taken from the trail, so please stay on the trail. If you come to a gate, leave it as you found it. Respect 'No Trespassing' signs. Enjoy!