Selecting the Right Wildflowers

by Carolyn Allen

Well, my seed and bulb catalogs are now on top of the stack on my desk. How about yours? As I browsed through the first catalog, I found a number of "garden kits" with complete selections to grow particular flavors of gardens. There were Perennial Border Gardens, Perennial Sun Gardens, and even Wildflowers for Sunny Meadows.

Having developed a deep interest in the balance of native plants and their counterpart wildlife, I've taken a look at some of these wildflower kits, and I must say, "I'm wary!" The goals in planting wildflowers can certainly vary, but most people I've visited with place high value on attracting native species of birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

So, here's Carolyn's soapbox quote for the week. If you buy a wildflower kit, please check that the seeds are native to your region. And how do we define region? Ecosystem. An ecosystem is a specific location that is unique because of migration patterns, weather and natural land forms. It has a specific balance of terrain, water features, flora features, weather patterns, and your local wildlife's specific needs. Once upon a time, I graded standardized tests for seventh grade students and I picked up one of my all-time favorite words, specificity!

Just as Johnny likes string beans and Sally like broccoli, wildlife has its specificity profile as well. And it varies widely. Within a few miles you can find subspecies that have different eating or nesting preferences. Butterflies need both host plants for their eggs and caterpillars and nectar plants for the adults. Nectar loving birds and butterflies like tubular flowers. Seed and insect eaters usually prefer flat flowers.

Specificity sounds like the title of a great game to play at the local library or bookstore as you search for the native wildlife in your neighborhood and their favorite foods. A knowledgable nature store clerk can be of great help in identifying your local wildlife and their favorite foods.

If any of you come up with a matching game or other creative masterpiece based on this concept, please share it with the rest of us (email it to me and I'll pass it along). Have a super, silly, sensational, seasonal game of specificity searching!

Carolyn Allen is a Backyard Naturalist. You can reach her at Visit her web site "" at

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