Botany in a Day is an good handbook for learning family identification.
These 10 additional families* are also pretty common. In some cases the flowers are maybe not as showy or eye-catching as many of the first ten families but these are still easily findable plants with notable characteristics that will help you recognize them by family.
*Did you miss the first ten? Here they are.
[Note: the numbers represent the number of species found in and near El Dorado County]
This is often called the Evening Primrose family. Onagra means "donkey catcher" -- an onager is a donkey, and oenothera means "wine seeker", coming from the same root (Greek oinos, wine, plus thera, to drink. The roots were thought to make one thirsty for wine.) Today we still use the family name Onagraceae (which is also called the Willowherb family), more appropriate here because we have no native evening primroses but we do have the much more findable Clarkias and Epilobiums, referred to as willowherbs. The main characteristics of this family are the four sepals, four petals, four (or eight) stamens, and often a four-parted stigma.
The Mint family might be small in number of species but it is common to find at just about any elevation. From the Sonoma sage (shown, left) found on the gabbro soil of Cameron Park, to the Agastache growing at Carson Pass, mint family plants have square stems and opposite leaves. The flowers have five united sepals, five united petals and the petal arrangement might make them seem like members of the Scrophulariaceae (Snapdragon) family, but they aren't.
OK, this is a bit of a ringer: all of our Mimulus, previously in Scrophulariaceae, have now been put into the family Phrymaceae. Most (all?) books still list mims with the old family name, but when the next Jepson Manual comes out, there will be many name changes to get everyone all agitated. (Why wait? Start learning the new names now.) It turns out that all the mimulus forms we are familiar with share more than previously known with a little plant from the eastern United States called Phryma leptostachya. Odd the way things work; that single little Phryma stayed put and dozens of Mimulus were shoved into that family. Ironically, Phryma was originally put into Verbenaceae.
Watch out for name changes in this family; all but one of the plants formerly known as Linanthus are all now Leptosiphon! Curiously, Linanthus dichotomus remains unchanged. Other plants in Polemoniaceae are Collomia, Gilia, Ipomopsis, Leptosiphon, Navarretia, of course Phlox and the Polemoniums.
These are bowl or funnel-shaped flowers with four (or five) separate sepals, four (or five) united petals), and four (or five) stamens fused to the corolla sides and alternate with petals. Typically they have opposite leaves, but Swertia (still commonly called Frasera) has whorled leaves.
The Gentian family is represented by only ten species reported in El Dorado County, and they offer three very different appearances: the flower shown at left is Newberry's gentian (Gentiana newberryi), is the only white form. Around the Cameron Park area, look for Swertia albicaulis var nitida, and a tiny surprise with a mouthful of a name, Cicendia quadrangularis. Compare Cicendia with the Carson Pass Swertia radiata, and see the amazing difference.
In the forest, Rose family flowers are regular (identical petals rotate around a central point) flowers with five sepals, five petals, but numerous stamens. It is the numerous stamens that help you see a five-petaled flower as a member of the Rose family because most five-petaled flowers have five or maybe ten stamens; Roses have so many as to be hard to count. In fact garden roses have way more petals because the stamens have been tricked into becoming petals!
A quirk of nature allows the doubling up of petals in garden roses. What happens is this: the stamens of the flower mutate into petals over many years so that eventually, by means of selection, we have a 'double-flowered' rose. The wild species roses are undoubtedly beautiful, but it is the multiplication of their petals that has made possible the great wealth of beauty we now find in garden roses. It is by the reflection of the light between the petals and through the petals and the many effects thereby produced that all the beauty of the garden rose becomes possible. There are, in fact, no double roses in nature. The English Roses
It might surprise you to learn that the Rose family includes apples, quinces, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries!
The Pink family (think carnations) has flowers with parts in 5's (usually 5 stamens, but some have 10), plus they usually have a notched petal that, at least with chickweed (Stellaria sp.) is so deeply split that it looks like ten petals. On plants with enough of a stem to actually see (i.e., not sandwort), there is a swollen node where leaves attach to the main stem (Example).
Name changes in this group now have the former Arenarias (sandworts) now changed to Eromogone.
Borage flowers are in helicoid cymes and often have herbage that is coarsely hairy. The leaves are simple, mostly entire, and alternate; stipules are lacking. The calyx consists of 5 distinct or connate sepals. The corolla is 5-merous. If you are already familiar with plants like baby blue eyes and fivespot (both forms of Nemophila), you are probably going to be surprised to learn that these plants have been moved out of Hydrophyllacea and into Boraginaceae. Other common plants in Boraginaceae include Amsinckia, Cryptantha, Hacklia, and Phacelia.
We only have a few plants to find that are in the Primrose family, but they are each a pleasure to find. The flower parts are in 5's (sometimes 4's); calyx is deeply lobed; corolla lobes spreading to reflexed; stamens epipetalous, opposite corolla lobes. Characteristics of these flowers are almost superfluous because the flowers are completely distinctive: the Shooting stars (Dodecatheon sp.) and the Sierra primrose (Primula suffrutescens) are very easy to recognize without ever counting a single stamen. There is a poor cousin that also shows up as Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), a non native weedy plant that grows in the foothills below 3500 feet. Compare the pimpernel with the shooting star and you will be surprised at the similarity.
Not intended as a joke, this family, also known as the Sumac family, is worth knowing if only for one major species: Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)! There are two other local species but they are landscape ornamentals: Pepper tree (Schinus molle) and the roadside Pistache (Pistacia atlantica).
Poison oak is very much in evidence in many places around the foothills. It has the famous shiny oak-like leaf shapes in a three-part leaf. One bit of info that surprised me (since I have never never had a problem with poison oak!) is that it can suddenly become a problem even for people who have never had a problem with it.
This family is also the same one that gives us cashews, mangos, and pistachios.
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