Credit KJ Dell’Antonia
Challenge No. 5: Name a flower, plant or tree.
This week, as part of the Well Family Intentional Summer, we’re inviting you to renew a skill your grandparents (and maybe even your parents) probably had: putting a name to the flowers, bushes and trees that surround even urban dwellers daily.
The names — and what’s more, the uses — of the plants that grow around us were once common knowledge. But for most of us, the need to brew dandelion tea or pop dandelion leaves into a salad evaporated the moment one of our recent ancestors walked into a supermarket. A generation or so later, many of us can’t even identify a dandelion.
British researchers have found that few people can identify five common wildflowers or trees, and the younger we are, the less likely we are to be able to name names. Even biology teachers in Britain did poorly on similar questions — a third couldn’t name three or more wildflowers.
That lack of knowledge reflects our increasing disconnect from the natural world. The more time we spend in nature, the more we want to know it and name it. Identifying a single plant is an invitation to connect with the green spaces around us.
“There are lots of benefits to spending time in green surroundings,” whether it’s a local park or a national forest, says Jessica de Bloom, the author of many research studies on vacation and happiness. A little nature can reduce recent stress and improve our mood. Even if the plant in question is growing out of a crack in a city sidewalk, taking a moment to really look at it and find out more about its place in the world can offer a memorable break in our day (and maybe lead to more outdoor exploration).
How to identify your plant of choice? Technology can make that easier. My kids and I chose a blue wildflower we hadn’t noticed before, and posted its picture on Facebook to test the hive mind. Meanwhile, I found mywildflowers.com and chose a few simple characteristics of our flower from the menu of options offered there: It had seven or more petals, was blue, appeared individually rather than in clusters and bloomed in July. (Similar sites and apps exist for other plants and trees: Try Leafsnap, iPflanzen or NatureGate.)
We had an answer via the internet in three minutes, and from Facebook in four: Chicory, the root of which can be blended into coffee. In fact, it’s in the coffee I’m drinking as I write. The search led to a conversation about chicory and to a real desire to know more about the “weeds” that grow by the side of the road.
If you’d like to test your knowledge of some common North American plants, try our quiz.
This week’s challenge: Name something in nature, and tell us how it goes by commenting here or emailing us at email@example.com before next Tuesday, July 26. You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).
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We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 28. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.