Discussing Nature Challenge #1: Naming Nature

Did you and your family have a beautiful week getting outdoors and meeting some new friends in nature?  Once we all finally recovered from our brief bout with a virus, we were happy to get outside, fill our lungs with fresh air, and pick some objects to identify.


(Starting from top, left)  Our neighbors behind us have a pet duck.  As you can imagine, the girls love to visit Duck daily.  I thought it might be fun to find out what sort of duck Duck is.  As it turns out, he (she?) is a White Pekin Duck.  (Of note is that 95% of duck meat consumed in the United States is Pekin duck.  Oh, I hope this won’t be Duck’s fate!)

The next one was an easy one for me.  Living south of Austin, Texas, introduced me to lantana bushes.  These hearty, sun-loving plants are fairly easy to identify, and our neighbor has a gorgeous one growing next to her house.  The pink and yellow blossoms are magnets for butterflies, and I was curious about what particular variety of lantana this is, as well as its scientific name.  The lantana pictured above is a Pink CapriceLantana camara. Such a pretty name for a pretty plant!

It isn’t often that we see mushrooms popping up in the very last days of spring, but these delicate little guys graced us with their presence for just a day or two.  I didn’t realize that mushroom foraging is such a popular hobby, but because it is, there are many online resources for identifying mushrooms.  I am not absolutely positive, but I believe these here-today-gone-tomorrow fungi were inky caps.

(Bottom row, left) One delightful benefit of living in a home built in the 1930s is that mature trees abound in our backyard.  The one that is by far the tallest and most majestic is just outside the back door.  It provides welcome and generous shade, and it’s massive leaves are so fun for the girls’ backyard creations.  I had to go to some botanically-educated family members to get a correct identification on this towering fixture, but from now on I’ll always be able to identify a catalpa tree. Depending on the region in which you live, you might also have known it as a catawba tree.  (pictures four and five are of our catalpa)

Finally, I have to confess we didn’t fully achieve our goal of naming five objects last week.  I have tried to get a positive identification on the shrub that grows on one side of our front porch, but its true identity has eluded me.  After looking through pictures of many, many shrubs, I thought perhaps it was a boxwood, but the fact that it has been an enthusiastic, quick-growing shrub tends to negate my theory.  I’ll have to keep digging so that I can find out how to call this green friend by his proper name.  Maybe one of you recognize him?

What are some resources we can use to identify the objects we happen upon outdoors?  Here are some that come to mind:

Field Guides

We don’t currently have any in our home library, but I know having an actual hold-it-in-your-hand field guide would have made the identification process so much easier.  One of my fondest memories from childhood includes the hours I spent pouring through my grandparent’s well-worn Audubon Field Guild to North American birds.  The National Audubon Society remains a wonderful resource for field guides for everything from mammals to wildflowers to spiders to stars.  Simple Kids reader Kristina mentioned the Peterson field guides and these seem to be highly recommended resources as well.

Online Resources

If your public library doesn’t carry a good selection of field guides and you aren’t able to add to your home library, there is a still a wealth of information available to you online.  I used a number of online resources for our naming challenge including the Arbor Day foundation “What Tree is That?” tree identification guide, the online community at UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research (which even has a subforum specifically for identifying plants), and honestly, lots of good old-fashioned Google and Google Images searches.

Friends and Family

Chances are that the next door neighbor with the well-cared for lawn and inviting landscaping might know a thing or two about plant identification.  Your brother-in-law the bird-watching enthusiast could shed some light on that brilliant blue bird who has taken up residence with your family.  If your grandparents are still living, you may discover what I have found to be true – this is a generation who is well-versed in the flora and fauna in the regions in which they grew up.  Don’t be afraid to ask around when you are stumped!  Exploring and identifying nature with one another helps build up and strengthen connections.

I am so looking forward to hearing what you have discovered in the past week!  Feel free to share your results in the comments section or by linking to a post on your own blog.  I would also love to hear what resources you found to be the most helpful in this challenge!