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Mr. Smarty Plants - Fourth-grade research on Texas Wildflowers from Dallas, TX

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Monday - January 06, 2014

From: Dallas , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Fourth-grade research on Texas Wildflowers from Dallas, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Mr. Smarty Plants, Hello, I am a fourth grade teacher and my students are about to begin a project on Texas Wildflowers. Some of the information they will require is the scientific name of the plant, growing season, habitat and if applicable, how the plants may have been used by Native Americans and or Texas settlers. Are there sources that discuss or cover this information that would be appropriate for fourth graders? Thank you.


It has been a loooong time since this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team was in the fourth grade, and when our children were in the fourth grade, the Internet was not even a gleam in inventors' eyes. Now a fourth grade grandson  zips around in the Internet but may not understand nor care about articles on plants. We say this because of your stipulation that the material we recommend be appropriate for fourth graders. I am sure your fourth graders are as adept as most young people their age, far beyond what we old timers are capable of. They can access the information online, the hitch will be whether they can assimilate it. With that in mind, we will give you several sources in hopes you can look at those sources and judge which ones will be most suitable.

Books: We suggest you start with our Bibliography. There is a selector on the first page with which you can search for wildflowers and southwest, in the same search. From this we chose six books we considered good possibilities, listed at the bottom of this page. Also notice that every answer we provide has a list of similar questions and answers on the same page in which you can often find information we missed. Our favorite of these books (and in our personal library) is Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide: Revised Edition (2006) C. Loughmiller, L. Loughmiller, D. Waitt. If you do not have this book, this link, Texas Wildflowers, will take you to our Special Collections and has a list of 337 Texas wildflowers from our Native Plant Database. We also found a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on Texas plants useful to early settlers.

If you wish to stick with Internet information, allow us to introduce you to our Native Plant Database. On that page, scroll down to Combination Search. You can select on a state, a habit; in this case, herb (herbaceous blooming plants). That would get you started, and you will note that you can select on bloom time, size, even color. A far better way for you to use the database is to go to the list, Texas Wildflowers, taken from the book we mentioned above, more focused on your needs. Every page on a specific flower you pull up is directly from our database.

Example: Coreopsis tinctoria (Plains coreopsis)

Follow this plant link to our webpage on it. Here is the first information you will see:

Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis tinctoria Nutt.

Plains coreopsis, Golden tickseed, Goldenwave, Calliopsis

Asteraceae (Aster Family)


USDA Symbol: COTI3

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), HI (W), CAN (N)

The first lines give you the scientific name (Coreopsis tinctoria) and the common name  (Plains coreopsis). There are usually several common names; it is usually better to use the scientific name when searching for a specific plant. In this case Coreopsis is the genus and tinctoria is the species. The plant is in the Asteraceae family. The USDA symbol is useful in that it is universally used and you can search in the USDA database for the plant using the same plant code COTI3.

Next read down the page, where you will see Plant Information, pictures of the plant (click on any picture and you will get an enlarged view), whether it is annual or perennial, expected mature size, bloom time and color, its natural habitat and Growing Conditions. Next is Benefits:


Use Ornamental: This species is widely cultivated as an ornamental and is escaping. It is sometimes known in the horticultural trade as calliopsis.
Use Wildlife: Nectar-Bees Nectar-Butterflies, Nectar-insects, Seeds-Granivorous birds
Use Food: Flowers boiled in water makes a red liquid used as a beverage.
Use Medicinal: Amerindians used root tea for diarrhea and as an emetic. Dried tops in a tea to strengthen blood. Boiled plant to make a drink for internal pains and bleeding.
Use Other: Was used for a source of yellow and red dyes.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: High"

Notice this mentions both food and medicinal uses. Not every plant page will have this information. Finally, Additional Resources, which will give you links to even more information on the plant.

"Additional resources

USDA: Find Coreopsis tinctoria in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Coreopsis tinctoria in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Coreopsis tinctoria "

Probably your best course is to find one of the books we have suggested that have lists of useful plants, and cross-reference with the list of wildflowers to find Texas wildflowers that have been used for medicinal and edible purposes. Or, assign each student with a number of wildflowers to research on the webpages we have provided for the information. 


From the Image Gallery

Plains coreopsis
Coreopsis tinctoria

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