Ranger and naturalist Bill Champion would like to make identifying flowers and plants a walk in the park.
"This is the first chance I've had to do something like this," said retired Lake Tahoe Community College worker Diana Hamilton, one of nine people assembled for a half-mile wildflower walk last week at Spooner Lake.
Hamilton said she knows some flowers, but there's "always more to learn."
Many flowers come with Latin names as long as medical terms. This is apt, since some are known for their medicinal properties. This is a theory on which South Lake Tahoe naturalist Kim Chatfield has based a book and series of slide shows.
For instance, Champion pointed out that the willow trees growing around the lake have been known for their aspirin-like qualities under their bark.
Yarrow is another example. "They say Indians would stick this up their noses to get rid of nosebleeds," Champion said.
Sometimes plants can provide the inspiration for other practical purposes.
"I've heard the idea for Velcro came from the study of plants," Champion said. He was referring to the stick seed covered with burrs that attach to passersby who brush up against the plant.
"And what do you wear in your clothes that's within the mallow family?" Champion quizzed the hikers.
One piped in: "Cotton."
Mallow, referred to as the marshmallow plant, is common in
wooded, wet areas, Champion pointed out near the lake.
Hikers wanting to live off the land can take comfort in knowing edible plants like sunflowers exist, if one knows how to identify them.
Champion started the hike with a bag of Sierra onion to give participants a glimpse of what they'd be seeing and possibly eating along the way.
Not every plant is recommended for consumption.
The purple splash of lupine adds a pretty accent to any meadow, but should not be eaten as it's toxic. Champion advised people feeding on flowers to be careful what they pick up.
In Spooner's meadow, the group passed by some corn lilies - stopping Champion in his tracks.
"They look like skunk cabbage, and that would be OK to eat. But these are some of the most poisonous plants out here," he said. "Of course, people don't just pick up flowers and eat them. Animals have figured it out."
Warm, dry weather has sprung the summer season into high gear.
"I've noticed it's much drier this year. We're approaching peak wildflower season, which comes in July. It's somewhat early this year," he said.