Wildflower displays seen from the Gateway Loop.

Bluedicks bloom along the trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve.


The timing and showiness of wildflower displays in the Preserve is never predictable, depending each year on the timing and amount of winter and spring rainfall and average temperature.  The best chance of seeing wildflowers in the Preserve is between February and April.

How to Identify a Wildflower

You've been bitten by the "Wildflower Bug" and now you want to identify flowers you see on the trails.  You need two things: the information below to help you focus on the parts needed to make an identification, and a guide that identifies what you've found.  Wildflowers and More field guide, by Marianne Skov Jensen, is a "must have" identification guide that is available for purchase through the Conservancy and at trailheads in the Preserve.

Flower Color 

  • Flower color should be used as a guide.  However, one person's blue is another's purple.  Always look in the neighboring sections of your field guide if you can't find your flower under the first color group in which you look.  When a flower has more than one color, use the color that covers most of the flower to begin your search in the field guide.                 
  • Notice if new-looking flowers are one color and old flowers are another.  This is common as it helps pollinators focus on fresh flowers and ignore old ones.  Use the color of the new flowers for identification. 
  • Before searching for the flower in your field guide, look more closely at the petals.  Are they more than one color? Where are the other colors?  Flowers often have petals that have a different color at the base than they do at the tip.  They also commonly have subtle spots or stripes called "nectar guides" that direct pollinators to the nectar. 

Flower Shape

Flowers come in a few standard shapes:

  • Daisy - flat with petals around the outer edge.
  • Bell - a cup shape with the opening hanging down.
  • Cup - a cup shape with the opening pointing up.
  • Tubular - shaped like a trumpet.
  • Pea - shaped like a snapdragon flower.

Flower Arrangement

The arrangement of the flower on its stalk is important for identification.  Here are a few typical options:

  • Single flower                                            
  • Many small flowers on a central, straight stem  
  • Many small flowers or buds on a curved, fiddleneck-like stem
  • Many flowers in a clump                             
  • More than one flower on a branched stem        

Flower Parts 

While there are many parts to a typical flower, knowing these four will help with identification. 

  • Sepals: Sepals are green and petal-like, and are closed over the bud. 
  • Petals: Petals can come in many shapes and sizes. 
  • Stamen: Stamen are the male part of the flowers and produce pollen. 
  • Stigma: The stigma is the tip of the female part of the flower. 

Leaf shape 

Never finish your identification without glancing at the rest of the plant!  Confirm that the flower in the field guide and the plant you are observing have the same leaves.  This is an easy way to make sure that you have, indeed, identified your subject.