Most Popular Types of Wild Flowers
By Anna Graizbord
, last updated February 4, 2011
Though wildflowers are typically thought of as flowers that are not deliberately grown or cultivated, some popular types are sold commercially and planted in areas to which they are not native. As such, sometimes the term "wildflower" simply means that the plant in question is not a hybrid or a precisely cultivated plant species. In general, wildflowers can range greatly in color and overall appearance, though whether they are planted together or on their own, they can communicate a certain untamed, playful, and carefree environment or feeling.
Wildflowers can be grouped into three general categories: Annuals, Perennials, and Biennials.
Annuals typically grow naturally in open rather than wooded areas and can be characterized most by the fact that they only live through one growing season. During this season, they bloom for a long period of time (one to two months). Annuals tend to grow fast from seeds, as they are "self-sowing" plants, meaning that they propagate by dropping their seeds as soon as their flowers wilt.
- California Poppy—Typically orange in color, California poppies have long stems about 2 to 25 inches tall, four small petals about 1 to 3 inches in diameter, and grayish blue-green foliage. Though they are native to California, as the name suggests, they can be found in Oregon, southern Washington, Baja California, and throughout the southwestern U.S. They are often planted on roadsides, are drought-tolerant, and pretty easy to grow.
- Plains Coreopsis—These are technically classified as forbs, or herbaceous flowering plants native to grasslands and plains. Plains coreopsis flowers bloom in mid-summer with a petal coloring that is bright yellow with a brown center, and they reach 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The plants themselves can grow to be 12 to 40 inches tall with pinnately-divided leaves clustering toward the bottom.
- Baby's Breath—Though some species are perennial, many tend to be annual. Its white or pink flowers are very tiny (3 to 10 millimeters wide) and are produced in large clusters on top of stems anywhere from 2 to 8 inches tall. You will often see them in bouquets as fillers, and they are a popular adornment at weddings. In gardens, they are primarily ornamental and grow best in calcium-rich soils like gypsum.
- Cornflower—Cornflower blossoms, typically blue in color, are unique in that they are produced in flowerhead ring formations about 1 inch in diameter. They naturally grow in weed crop fields, or "corn fields" as the English call them, and they are known as a "beneficial weed" though are actually endangered. In gardens, they act primarily as ornamental plants, are often associated with Germany and Estonia, and are often used in herbal tea blends.
- Sunflower—Sunflowers are one of the most popular types of wildflowers. As they tend to have very large flowerheads, they have historically been associated with the sun, especially within Pre-Colombian cultures in Meso-America. Further, they actually grow best when exposed fully to the sun. Their growth habits are especially unique because they have a phototropic response called heliotropism in which leaves and flowerheads change their east-west orientation in order to follow the sun.
Because perennials have a very slow germination period, they don't bloom until their second growing season and last a shorter period of time (approximately 2 weeks) as compared with annual blooms. As they propagate each year, they tend to clump together, each clump growing larger than the last. In terms of their overall persistence, some types can return for decades and even centuries, while others don't return beyond five years.
- African Daisies—African daisies are one of the most common types of daisies you'll see, ranging in white, orange, yellow, and apricot colors. They are commonly grown as ground coverings, borders, and in larger pots. They can grow to be very tall, 1 to 1.5 feet, and bloom anywhere from April to August.
- Purple Coneflower—Though sometimes more commonly known as Echinacea, these are actually herbaceous flowering plants of the daisy family. They grow naturally in prairies and open wooded areas with summer blooms that are characterized by cone-shaped, spiky and large flower heads.
- Goldenrod—Though frequent handling of goldenrod is likely to cause allergic reactions, and as a whole it is not as popular in the United States as in England, this type of wildflower is used in tea blends and is edible when cooked. They are also often used as decoration. They grow naturally in meadows, pastures, on roadsides, and even in ditches and waste areas, thus they technically classify as a weed.
- Primrose—One of the earliest spring-blooming flowers (their Latin name prima rosa literally means "first rose"), primroses are common in Victorian-style cottage gardens. This wildflower can be grown as ground covers, and its blooms are about 1.5 inches in diameter, ranging in color from pale yellow, white, red, and purple, with petals that are a bit heart-shaped on the edges.
As with perennials, biennials have a slow-growing first year and do not typically bloom during that time. However, they only have a two-year life cycle, and their second year is generally a very rich and abundant seeding and blooming life.
- Queen Anne's Lace—As the name suggests, the small, often white, flowers of this plant grow in clusters and tend to resemble lace. Like cornflowers, this plant is a "beneficial" weed. It has even been known to foster tomato plants when planted nearby and can also provide a more desirable moist air for lettuce.
- Black-eyed Susan—These flowers are actually in the sunflower family and are distinguished by their prominent, dark purple-brown centers and yellow petals that resemble daisies.
- Sweet William—The most striking feature of these flowers are their spiky, blue-green leaves that cluster near the white, pink, red, or purple 1-inch blooms, which display five petals that are serrated on the edges. They are popular in gardens as ornamental flowers, often planted in borders, rock gardens and country gardens. They're more typically cultivated and cross-bred than other wildflowers and can also be short-lived perennial plants.
- Foxglove—These pretty, often purple, flowers are bell-shaped and grow in tubular clusters. Though seemingly perfect as ornamental plants, and sometimes grown in gardens, their seeds, leaves, and flowers are poisonous when ingested by humans and some animals. Therefore, they are much better in bouquets and in indoor arrangements, and they do best in partial shade regardless.