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The Parts of the Flower

Every time I am about to teach the parts of a flower I am struck by how small are the parts of so many flowers. I am looking for a nice stout flower, with big, obvious parts, and all I can find are tiny, delicate ones the parts of which will require a magnifying glass to see.

If it is spring, and I can find tulips, or if there is, perchance, a lily in bloom in early summer, then all is well, but the geranium flower keeps itself to itself and the deceptive daisy presents dozens of tiny flowers in the center, surrounded by "petals" which are really individual flowers called "ray flowers." And, in the case of daisies, the ray flowers may or may not have sexual parts. They may be reduced to a petal alone, just enough to attract the insects that pollinate the central florets.

For tomorrow, I am considering agapanthus, which has nice lilylike flowers with 6 petals, 6 stamens and a single pistil. Well, not quite right. It really has 3 petals and 3 sepals. But unlike many sepals, which are green, these look exactly like the blue petals. Botanists call them tepals. Another possibility is the foxglove flower. It has, technically speaking, 5 petals that are fused into a tube (you can see five little lobes at the top of the tube, all that remains of the separate petals), and 2 pairs of stamens that form two elegant arches within the petal tube.

But for clarity, we need at least one flower with an inferior ovary. This is inferior in the sense of "below" rather than in "not as good as." It just means that the petals and sepals are attached at the top of the ovary, so the ovary sticks out behind them. In these flowers, we can see the ovary without dissecting the flower. An example is the flower of the fuchsia. You can see the little bulb that will develop into the fuchsia berry behind each flower.

So tomorrow will find me out poking around the garden, seeing what I can find that will relate the real world to the terms botanists use. It's an exploration that always produces a surprise or two. If you head out to explore on your own, take a magnifying glass for best results.


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