Ever since I’ve picked up a camera, I’ve been fascinated by macrophotography, zooming in close on flowers and other plants. Even before I owned a DSLR camera, I already loved to identify the flowers I found on a hike. And although I only know a few my memory, I’ve been steadily identifying flowers and recording them. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but a good portion of the most common flowers you’ll see around Western Washington plus a few more local to the Pacific Northwest and a sneaky one I found in California. The goal of this identification page is to learn more about generic wildflower types rather than specific species. After all, I’m not a botanist!
The wildflowers are sorted primarily by colors. The general locations and generic descriptions are listed. I try to give some tips for identifying them too. I also have a few resources if you want to dig deeper in the latin names or very specific details about specific species. Did you know there’s about 20 varieties of lupine?
If you use the search function in your browser, these are keywords I use
Color: red, yellow, white, pink, purple, blue
Habitat: forest, subalpine, dry (Eastern/Western Washington)
WTA Wildflowers (57 types but honesty I have yet to see all of those, some are covered here, and I cover some outside of this)
Rainier Wildflower Guide This is a short list of common flowers you’ll see in the national park
Eastern Washington Plants You may think eastern WA as arid, but there’s lots of flowers blooming in spring and early summer
Burke Plant Identification Website by UW with a large list of local plants, not the easiest to search though
WSU’s PNW Plant Database Not easy to search but if you find it, info is great here
USDA Wildflowers Across the US, I’m not sure how to use, but if it comes up on a google search, there’s great info here
PNWFlower This is a great site, it’s simple in identification method, meaning you’ll click through many pages to find something, but I primarily use this! There’s plenty other resources, books, apps that are quite helpful too
Wildflowers of PNW
Here’s a list of quick links
Aster. Sometimes they’re also purple. I honestly couldn’t find a better name for these, but they’re definitely aster plants! This was found in Rainier NP in the forest. Mid summer. Avalanche Lily. One of 3 common lilies you’ll find in subalpine slopes of Western Washington. This is the one that’s white! It’s also called White avalanche lily or white glacier lily because those often get confused. Mid summer.
Beargrass. Although not shown, beargrass flower blooms in the middle of a clump of grass. One of the early bloomers in Western Washington forests and subalpine fields. Don’t confuse it with pasqueflower seedheads. Early-late summer. Bunchberry. They are ubiquitous in the forests of Western Washington. They can completely cover the forest floor. They look a bit like dogwood and are sometimes called creeping dogwood. They grow red shiny berries that are edible, but not necessarily tasty. Early summer.
Desert Phlox. You’ve likely seen phlox in the mountains, but the desert phlox looks a bit more like a shrub than ground cover. This was found in a dry field near Leavenworth. Early-mid summer. False Lily-of-the-Valley. These delicate flowers are often over powered by their large leaves. But they also can carpet a forest floor. Western Washington. Early summer.
Great White Trillium. I’ve seen this flower grow at just about every trail off I-90 (or so it seems) but they’re always few and far between. They like wet, shady zones in the forest and are identified by their unique 3 petal shape. They turn pink when they grow old. Early summer. Mariposa Lily. They’re super intricate flowers characterized by their pointy 3 petal pattern. Grown in grasses, like the dry Eastern Washington. Early-mid summer.
Marsh Marigold. As the name implies, this flower likes to grown in a wet climate. I’ve found them in-between subalpine slopes and the forest where water can puddle. It’s a fairly abundant buttercup flower in Western Washington. Mid summer. Pasqueflower. You probably notice these the most once they become seedbeds. They look a lot similar to the marsh marigold, except they grow in more open subalpine fields of Western Washington. 6 petals with a yellow center. Mid-late summer.
Pasqueflower Seedhead. Most people think of them as mini truffula trees from the Dr Seuss book The Lorax. They’re soft and fluffy but you can’t blow on them like a dandelion. I find them to be more exciting than the flowers. Subalpine Western Washington. Late summer. Star Solomon’s Seal. Tiny white star-like flowers that grow in forest floors. Found near bleeding hearts and false lily of the valley. Early summer.
Arnica. This is easily confused with balsamroot. They’re of the same family (aster) but arnicas tend to grow in a carpet rather than in clumps. Found in dry areas like Eastern Washington. Early summer. Balsamroot. This is also of the aster family but the balsamroot is unique in that both its petals and leaves are broad. They’re readily found in dry Eastern Washington, such places near Leavenworth and Wenatchee. They look a lot like sunflowers. Early-mid summer.
Glacier Lily. The yellow version of the avalanche lily. You can call it yellow glacier lily or yellow avalanche lily. They grow in subalpine meadows of Western Washington. Mid summer. Tiger Lily. Unmistakable with the spotted petals and color! They are not as abundant as the avalanche or glacier lilies but still readily found. Found in forests and subalpine meadows in Western Washington. Early-mid summer.
Bleeding Heart. These are quite easy to identify. They grow in the lowland forests of Western Washington. The leaves remind me a bit of parsley. The flowers grown in somewhat clumps on a stem and can fill a carpet or you might find them stand alone. I like to find these near trailheads! Early summer. Elephants Head. They caught me by surprise the first time I found them. They’re quite rare but they simply look like they have elephant trunks sticking out. Always pink. Found mostly in the North Cascades and North Olympics. But they’re supposed to exist by Rainier as well. Grown in subalpine meadows. Mid-late summer.
Fireweed. When there’s a forest fire, you’re sure to find fireweed the next year or so. They happily thrive in dry forests or subalpine slopes. Mid-late summer. Foxglove. They can grow quite tall. It’s a tubular flower with no real petals. They’re super common all over Western Washington especially in the lowland forests. Found near the city and trailheads. Early summer.
Pinedrop. They look like asparagus before they bloom. Sometimes even more white than red. Found in the forests whether wet or dry terrain, but more typical of Western Washington. Mid summer. Pink Mountain Heather. Sometimes called heath instead of heather, it’s covers most slopes of the Washington mountains. It’s a shrub with clusters of small bell shaped flowers. Usually pink but frequently seen with white flowers. Subalpine Western Washington. Mid summer.
Scarlet Paintbrush. A common flower in many states, there are quite a few different shades from more pink to more orange toned petals. They’ll grow in any subalpine terrain. Early-late summer. Scouler’s Corydalis. They have a narrow tubular section and petals that open resembling a long penstemon or a rounder larkspur. Found in the forests of Western Washington. Early-mid summer.
Tapertip Onion. A type of lily. The flowers are small but distinctively pink-purple. Mostly found in dry areas but can be found all over Washington. Early Summer. Thistle. A few different species are native to Washington. They’re characterized by their spiky look. Found in subalpine meadows in Western Washington. Early summer.
Western Columbine. Distinctively red with a yellow interior. To me it’s one of the flowers that look like a fairy dress. It has 5 petals that bend back each with a tail. Found all over Washington in subalpine meadows and sometimes even forests. Early-late summer. Wild Rose. It’s a shrub with flowers of few petals. Pink rounded petals with a yellow center. It looks like it’s made of paper. A few varieties exist, some exclusively in Western Washington and others exclusively in Eastern Washington. Either way, they are generally found in low elevation subalpine meadow. Early-mid summer.
Bluebell. I’ve only seen them in dry Eastern Washington of a couple varieties. This one happened to be a large bush. They have a delicate bell shape and like to hang facing down. Younger buds are pink and turn purple as they mature. Early summer. Blue Eyed Mary. A specific kind of penstemon with quite tiny flowers. The tongue of it is blue while the rest is white with some purple tones as well. I found this in the dry part of the Eastern Cascades. Early summer.
Douglas’ Brodiaea. These are tiny flowers but they’re so pretty! Found in dry Eastern Washington. It’s a type of wild hyacinth. Early summer. Jacobs Ladder. Super cute flowers that have a yellow center and look like bluebells. They have a more purple hue. Grows in large bushes and is a type of phlox. Probably found in more dry places like Eastern Washington. Mid summer.
Larkspur. There’s several varieties out there and this one’s my favorite! They all open up a little like penstemon but have a showy center and a pointed end towards the stem. They’re often a purple color and this one is unique with the white center. Found in dry Eastern Washington. Early summer. Lupine. My favorite! These are found just about anywhere in Washington above treeline. So most dry Eastern Washington slopes and also subalpine regions in Western Washington. You might find a few in a forest opening too. The most common is the broadleaf lupine and usually come in a purple tone with slight variations of more blue and more pink depending on location. They’re a pea plant and create pea pods at at end of bloom. Mid summer.
Mountain Bog Gentian. It’s a lush flower, but despite being a bog flower, it can grow in more dry regions. They have a long tube that opens up into 5 petals. I found this one near the Teanaways. But generally, they’re found in low subalpine regions of Western Washington. Mid-late summer. Davidson’s Penstemon. Also known as a beardtongue, this kind is low to the ground with flowers that loom larger than the leaves. Found on rocky ledges but in the wet environment of Western Washington. Early-mid summer.
Penstemon. This is the small flower variety that grow more as plans instead of rock cover like the Davidson’s. Found in subalpine zones in slightly more Eastern Cascades. Mid summer. Phlox. They actually come in many colors. I usually see them as white or purple in the mountains. They have a flat face to them and typically have 5 petals. Live in rockier terrain and can be seen in subalpine zones. Mid summer.
Shooting Star. Usually darker center with purple-pink petals. Once they’ve bloomed, the petals will shoot back as if the flower is about to fly. They grow in wet, sunny regions in subalpine territory. Mid summer. Sky Pilot. A bonus one that I enjoy. I haven’t seen it in Washington, but this is a Californian one. Same family as phlox. Usually forms a ball with the flowers. Mid summer.
Happy wildflower identification! Let me know what awesome flowers you find out there!