Identify wildflowers in 10 simple steps

You spot a pretty flower on a walk, but how do you find out what it is? Here are the most important features to look for.

Cow parsley

Botanists joke that they’re more endangered than the plants they study – and I’m amazed at how many keen wildlife watchers can name only a few dozen common wildflowers. Yet our flowers are amazingly colourful and varied. Plus they don’t run away, so you may sketch or photograph them at your leisure. But the number of wild species in the UK can feel daunting. Make things easier by learning the key plant parts, starting with these 10:


1. Leaf Is it in one piece or divided into smaller leaflets? Is it smooth or hairy, and are the edges serrated? Where are the leaves on the plant?

2. Flower arrangement Are the flowers single to a stem or grouped in a flowerhead, spike or spiral around the stem?

3. Flower design Is it symmetrical or asymmetrical? How are all the petals arranged? 

4. Stem Is it round, square or ridged? Is it hollow? Are there spines, hairs or down?

5. Habit Is the plant tall, short, creeping or a climber?

6. Habitat Where is the plant growing?

7. Moisture Is the ground wet or well drained?

8. Aspect Is the plant in shade, partial shade or full sun? Is it sheltered or exposed?

9. Soil In chalk and limestone areas, soil will be alkaline, and in clay areas, neutral; in other places, it’s likely to be acidic. Explore geology at

10. Time of year Plants flower at certain times, though this varies with location and year.


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