Wild flowers are plants that grow without any care from man. Some wild flowers are just as beautiful as garden flowers or hothouse flowers. The lovely plants that bloom in early spring in the woods often give more pleasure than any cultivated plant. The cacti that grow in the southwestern United States, and the marsh marigolds (cowslips) that grow in wet places from the Carolinas to the Arctic, add bright spots of color to the desert and marshes.
Many wild flowers are very hard to grow and are sometimes impossible to copy in gardens. The flowers that grow in the woods need an acid soil. Most of them need shade. Some can only grow in soil made of rotted oak leaves, or pine needles, or very special material.
Indian pipes must have a certain kind of fungus in the soil. The soil also must be made of rotted plant material because these white flowers have no chlorophyll (green coloring matter) in their stalks and no leaves so they cannot make their own food. Some of the other wild plants take a long time to grow from seeds to blooming stage. An example is the dogtooth violet or trout lily, which takes seven years to grow big enough to bloom. Few gardeners want to wait that long.
Fringed gentian seeds must fall in exactly the right place to grow or they die very quickly. They could not be put in a packet and sold.
Many other plants, that are lovely in their showy enough for cultivation. They may only bloom for a day or the flowers may be very small. In the woods or waste places, however, they are a bright spot of color for people who enjoy the out-of-doors. Other wild flowers grow too well for gardens. The many varieties of bright wild peas and beans that bloom on southern wastelands grow so fast that they would quickly choke out garden flowers.
Goldenrod and wild asters grow over most of the United States and Canada in fields, woods, and along roads. They are so common that few people would bother to grow them.
Of course, some wild flowers are cultivated. All cultivated flowers were once wild. The poinsettia is a wild plant of tropical Mexico and Central America. Geraniums grow wild in South Africa. It is interesting to find the wild ancestors of cultivated plants. Some plants that are wild in one part of the United States are cultivated in homes and gardens of other parts. Lupines grow wild in the west, but are sometimes raised in eastern gardens. Fields of wild California poppies brighten the western countryside. In the east, California poppies may be carefully planted in gardens.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy wild flowers is to learn to know them where they grow. Finding a patch of bloodroot, or arbutus, or hepatica in the woods can be a lot of fun. Finding some of the wild orchids like pink lady’s-slipper or the showy orchids of the spring is like finding a hidden treasure.
Sometimes when people find these flowers they feel that they must pick them and take them home with them. Usually this is selfish and often against the law. The petals of the bloodroot drop as soon as the flower is picked. Most woodland flowers wilt when they are carried in warm hands. Hepatica, spring beauty, and many others are too small to make good arrangements even if they do not wilt.
Picking the flower also keeps the plant from making seeds and new plants for people to enjoy. In some plants when the leaves are also picked the parent plant is killed too, for no food factory is left to store food in roots or bulbs for next year’s flowers.