Nature’s bounty peaks in late summer when fields and roadsides overflow with wildflowers in their mature beauty. The soft gold, purple, and brown of autumn flowers and seedheads blend together in swathes over the countryside. Harvest and Thanksgiving celebrations of nature’s bounty usually center on vegetables and crops. But wildflowers, dried and used in floral arrangements, can enhance these celebrations too.
Here are a few of the most common wildflowers that are easy-to-find. All can be dried and used as attractive stems, seedpods, blooms, or fillers.
Easy Wildflowers for Harvest Decorations
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp) – With over one hundred species in North America, goldenrod is easy to find in the countryside. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t cause allergies. Pick this wildflower early when the flowers are still fresh, even green. If picked later the flowers will “shatter” when dry. Goldenrod can be used on its own in tall arrangements, or combined with other tall stems to make a dramatic display. The flower heads make good fillers for other arrangements. Pick and dry the fresh flowers and remember to pick early before fully opened.
- Prunella (Prunella vulgaris) – In the autumn the flower spikes of this little plant, also called self-heal, turn into brown seed heads resembling small pinecones. About 6-9 inches high, the stems are ideal for small arrangements. In vintage mugs or tins, they look appealingly rustic. Prunella is a wildflower but is enjoying new status as a shade groundcover. Pick and dry the mature seed heads
- Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) – With white flowers in flat clusters and a dried, cottony look even when fresh, these wildflowers are perfect for dried arrangements. Versatile, they enhance wreaths, arrangements, and any floral creation. They’re found in dry places such as roadsides and pastures. Pick and dry the fresh flowers.
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Ideal as a dried flower, yarrow is sturdy despite its delicate, lacy appearance. Its flat, tight flower clusters are made up many tiny white blooms. Occasionally a pink form will be found in the wild. Garden varieties, which can be dried too, come in cerise or warm pastels. Yarrow is found abundantly in open fields. Pick and dry the fresh flowers.
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) – Found throughout North America this plant might grow as high as nine feet in good conditions, but it’s usually used as a much shorter length. Its tall straight spires though can be grouped with other tall stems and grasses for an impressive floor arrangement. Either way, the slim stems of evening primrose provides contrast to dried flower heads. If the tiny seeds start to fall out when the stems are hanging to dry, place a paper bag over the lower end of the stems to catch the seeds. Shake the seeds out of the pods before using. This stem with pods is ideal for spray-painting in any autumn color. Pick and dry the mature seedhead.
None of these wildflowers are endangered species, although there are a few goldenrod species which are rare. Respect for the land, the land-owner, and the eco-system are part of responsible wild harvesting.
How to Dry Wildflowers
- Cut the stem to a length just a bit longer that what will be used in the flower arrangement.
- Strip off the lower leaves from stem to lessen the amount of moisture and hence lessen the chance of mold.
- Tie a few stems together with an elastic band (as the stems dry and become less plump, the elastic will adjust, as string would not). Make the bunches loose so that air can circulate between the stems.
- Hang them upside-down in a dry, dark, well-ventilated place to dry.
Drying flowers can be an increasingly absorbing interest. The late “First Lady of Herbs,” Adelma Grenier Simmons, in Country Wreaths from Caprilands describes how her passion outgrew the confines of its location: “As the years passed, our original drying shed at Caprilands began to fill too quickly with the harvest of herbs, fragrant potpourri, and all kinds of dried floral decorations. Now we dry and preserve all our materials in the large lofts of the 18th century barn and in a new barn … We prefer air drying over any other method.”
Preserving wildflowers is an ideal children’s craft, too. It’s simple, free, educational, and fun. The US Forest Service describes different wildflower preservation techniques for children, but says that air-drying is the best way.
More Dried Flower Crafts for Harvest and Thanksgiving
These flowers are some of the better-known wildflowers and weeds, but there are many other suitable species. The North American Native Plant Society provides information on wildflowers to guide the new enthusiast. The fields, roadsides, woodlands and marshes of North America are full of wild plants that can be successfully and easily preserved. Others commonly used are the pods of milkweed, the budding flower heads of Joe-Pye weed, the velvety blossoms of the sumac, and the seedheads of the docks.
With a bit of forethought (remember, some plants must be picked early), and a bit of imagination, summer’s memories can be preserved. In the autumn, nature’s bounty overflows everywhere and is celebrated in fall festivals. Lovely dried wildflowers are part of that bounty and when they are used in harvest decorations or Thanksgiving flower arrangements the celebrations are richer