• Andrew Nielsen

Flower Basics 1

In botany, there is a distinction made between vegetative structures and reproductive structures. So for example, a leaf is simply a vegetative structure, it can be produced without a plant having to go through sexual reproduction. Many crops that I love are derived simply from the growth of leaves such as lettuce, spinach, and cabbage. But most of the vegetables that gardeners commonly grow, particularly in a temperate climate summer, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, etc. are the result of sexual reproduction in the plant via flowers. It is helpful to understand the basic structures of a flower in order to understand how vegetable plants create their fruit. In this post I am just going to briefly introduce some of the very basic structures of a flower with the help of a photograph.

A flower is basically the place where a fruit comes from. At the very center of a flower, at its base (close to where the stalk of the flower ends) is an ovary. This is the place that fruit grows from once the plant is fertilized (in botany -- a structure that bears seeds is a 'fruit" so tomatoes and cucumbers are fruits!). The ovary is at the base of a long structure at the very center of the flower called a pistil. So the pistil and the ovary are essentially female parts of the flower.

Surrounding the pistil, usually in a circle (called a whorl in botany), are a group of stamens (singular = stamen). The stamens have little swollen pollen bags at their tips called anthers. The pollen contains sperm cells and therefore the stamens and the anthers are male parts of the plant. The basics are that pollen has to get from the anthers onto the tip of the pistils for pollination to occur and ultimately for fruit to grow, but this process can be very different and unique depending on what species of plant you are considering (for example - tomatoes vs. cucumbers vs. apple trees are three very different pollination scenarios).

In order to aid in the pollination process, there is a whorl of brightly colored flower petals as you move from stamen to the outermost part of the flower, Even though some plants will pollinate just using the help of the wind, flowers have bright colors to help attract insects and birds. Even if an insect doesn't directly pollinate a plant, the movement of an insect around the inside of a flower actually helps to shake pollen off of the anthers and onto the pistils. Finally, outside of even the flower petals, but sometimes hidden from view by the petals (as in my photo below) are leaf-like structures called sepals. The sepals are usually green and often completely envelope a flower for protection when it is very young and before it opens.

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