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Buying guide for best wildflower field guides

Anyone who enjoys hiking, camping, or spending time in nature understands the joy of stumbling upon a patch of striking wildflowers. But identifying the flowers that you encounter on your wilderness treks can be tricky because there are so many varieties across the country.

If you want to know more about the wild flora you come across, a wildflower field guide is a necessity for your next outdoor excursion.

You’ll only be successful in recognizing wildflowers if you choose the right resource. But sorting through the many guides on the market can be tricky. If you’d like to buy a wildflower field guide, continue reading our shopping guide for all the tips you need to choose the best book for your next nature adventure.

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Wildflower habitats vary greatly. Some flowers prefer wet, cool environments, while others grow well in sunny desert conditions.

What are wildflowers?

Wildflowers are pretty much exactly what they sound like – flowers that grow in the wild without any intentional seeding. They are plants native to the regions in which they’re found, not hybrids or selected cultivars. However, the term “wildflower” can be used to describe the entire plant, not just the bloom. Some common wildflowers in the U.S. include butterfly milkweed, bitterweed, chocolate daisy, long-spurred violet, painted trillium, and native wisteria.

Where to find wildflowers

Because they grow naturally, wildflowers can be found nearly anywhere in nature. You’re likelier to find them in wilderness areas, where they’re less affected by heavy foot traffic and other environmental stress. In particular, you can usually find wildflowers growing along trails in valleys or south-facing slopes that receive a great deal of sun. It’s also important to consider the season. In the southern U.S., wildflowers start springing up in March and April. In the cooler northern states, you likely won’t see wildflower blooms until May or June. In most areas, try to go wildflower hunting before the foliage from surrounding trees shades the ground completely.

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Did you know?
One of the most common wildflowers in North America is the black-eyed Susan, a member of the sunflower family.

Wildflower field guide features to consider

  • Size: When you’re considering what size field guide to buy, it helps to think about how you plan to use the book. If you’re going to use it at home to identify flowers you’ve seen on a hike or camping trip, any size book will do. A large, heavy guide will work just fine because you don’t have to carry it around.

  • If you want to identify wildflowers on the go, you’ll want a field guide that’s small enough to pack and carry on your hike or nature walk. Opt for a smaller book that you can fit in the pocket of your backpack or jacket so you’ll have easy access to it.

  • Pay attention to the field guide’s weight, too. Some guides are divided into multiple volumes, one for each different region, which allows you to carry a compact book that still includes all the information you need to correctly identify wildflowers in your area.

  • Number of species: For a field guide to be as useful as possible, it should include identifying information for a wide variety of wildflowers. Take note of how many species the book covers, some include as few as 150 species, while others have information for over 2,000. The more species the guidebook includes, the more success you’ll have in identifying the flowers you see.

  • Region(s): It isn’t practical for a single field guide to include every wildflower in one volume, so most wildflower field guides cover a specific geographic region. Some cover a large area, such as all of North America, but others break the areas up. For example, one volume might cover the eastern portion of North America, while another might only include species found in the Southwest.

  • Choose a field guide that covers the region(s) in which you plan to look for wildflowers. If you want to identify flowers on the go, you might be better off choosing a guidebook that covers a smaller geographic region because it won’t need to contain all the information necessary for identification.

  • Images: While written descriptions of the species can be helpful when you’re trying to identify a flower, it’s often easier if you have a photograph for comparison. Choose a wildflower field guide that contains clear color photographs of all the species it covers, so you can easily identify any bloom you find. Some field guides contain both a photo of the wildflower in its natural habitat and a detailed illustration of the bloom to help you pick up smaller identifying features.

  • Season and habitat details: To make it easier to identify the wildflowers you encounter, choose a field guide that includes season and habitat information about the flowers. If you find a particular flower in the fall, for example, you’ll be able to narrow down the possibilities more quickly if your guide includes the season in which the flower blooms. The field guide may also include information about the habitat in which the flower grows, such as shade or wetland. These details can make it much easier to distinguish one wildflower from another.

  • Organization: The way the wildflower field guide is organized makes a difference in how quickly and easily you’re able to identify a bloom. Books that organize flowers by color and shape are probably the easiest to use, but you can find some guides that are organized alphabetically with a quick-identification key that helps make finding the flower even easier.

  • Durability: If you’re taking your wildflower field guide on a hike or camping trip, choose one that is waterproof. It will help protect your book if you get caught in poor weather or you’re hunting for wildflowers near a lake, stream, or other body of water.
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Expert Tip
If you’re taking photos of wildflowers, try to get as close to the blooms as you can to capture all of the intricate details.

Wildflower field guide prices

Wildflower field guides vary in price based on the number of species they include. You can expect to pay between $7 and $30.

Budget-friendly: A basic wildflower field guide that covers 100 or fewer species costs between $7 and $13.

Mid-range: A classic wildflower field guide that covers approximately 1,000 species costs between $13 and $18.

Expensive: A comprehensive wildflower field guide that covers 2,000 or more species costs between $18 and $30.


  • Look for blooms just after it’s rained. Dry weather can sometimes affect the growth and diversity of wildflowers.

  • Memorize some bloom characteristics. If you memorize the appearance and distinguishing characteristics of some of the most common wildflowers in your region, you’ll be able to easily spot them when you’re on a hike or nature walk.

  • Protect yourself against insects. Flowers attract bugs, so apply some insect repellent or wear a long-sleeved shirt when you go wildflower hunting.

  • Don’t pick the flowers. While you should feel free to take photos of any wildflowers you encounter, don’t pick them. You want to make sure that they’ll keep growing for all to enjoy. A permit is required from the USDA Forest Service to collect many varieties.
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If you go looking for wildflowers after it rains, you could pick up some seeds in the mud on your shoes. Scrape the mud off and mix it with water before adding it to a container with potting soil to create your own wildflower garden.


Q. What should a beginner look for in a wildflower field guide?

A. If you’re new to wildflower identification, you’ll want a field guide that’s compact and lightweight so you can easily bring it with you on a hike or nature walk. Opt for a book that focuses on the most common wildflowers in your area rather than all the possible wildflowers in North America. It also helps to choose a guide with large color photographs because you might not be familiar with all the subtle identifying features that can help you figure out what wildflowers you’ve found. Wildflower distribution maps also come in handy for beginners.

Q. What features should I consider when trying to identify a wildflower?

A. The first thing that you’re likely to notice about a wildflower is the color of the bloom, but you should also pay attention to the shape and arrangement of the petals and leaves and the overall size of the plant. You should also note the plant’s growing habits, such as whether it creeps low on the ground or grows as a vine. The wildflower’s habitat and the time of year that you find it can also help identify it.

Q. Where can I get more information about the wildflowers in my area?

A. Many states have native plant societies that are dedicated to preserving, conserving, and providing information about wildflowers, so that’s a good place to start. If you don’t have a native plant organization in your state, consider contacting a local botanical garden or arboretum for information about wildflowers you’re likely to encounter.

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