Flowers are such incredible organisms! I love the diversity of shape, color, and scents that can be found not just globally, but even regionally. But what is the point of a flower? Why care about flower morphology? Is it just something pretty that feeds pollinators nectar?

Pollination Purpose

Well, yes. Pollinators do love nectar – that sweet liquid that flowers house, however a flower’s purpose is to be attractive to their unique pollinator so that the pollinator visits, stays long enough to be coated in pollen grains that then get passed on to another flower of the same species. The pollen grains get transferred to the Pistil, or the female reproductive structure of a flower. The pollen travels down the tube-shaped structure through the pollen tube until it fertilizes the future seed in the ovary and ovules. The purpose of a flower is ultimately to help the plant pass on its genetics to future generations!

Below are some images taken with my portable microscope camera. These images feature the flower morphology of 6 spring plants.

In order to be as efficient as possible, the plant knows what their pollinators are attracted to and produces pigments that are eye-catching or aromatic oils that are pungent for smell-focused creatures. If the pollinator can visit the flower as soon as possible after the flower blooms, then the chances of the pollen traveling to the next flower and fertilizing new seeds increases. 

Wind Pollination

Some flowers, though, aren’t insect or bird pollinated. Others can be pollinated by wind. These plants may have flowers that look less exciting or vibrant than animal pollinated flowers. If they don’t need to use the energy to create stunning or pungent flowers, then why bother?! Wind pollinated flowers are often very small and inconspicuous. Humans are often allergic to these since the pollen is small enough to get caught on a breeze and travel up our noses.

Double-Blooming Flower Morphology

double blooming bloodroot
Double blooming Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Garden flowers are often manipulated versions of their natural counterparts. Horticulturalists have been able to breed certain species to lack reproductive structures in favor of extra petals. In fact, what’s happening is that those many reproductive structures have actually mutated into just looking like petals! Those extra petals are called “Petaloid-structures”.

double blooming day lily

In the double-blooming daylily image, you can even see how some of the extra “petals” end in what looks like a mutated anther! Fascinating, right?!

These cultivars are absolutely gorgeous, however provide very little resources to native pollinator species since those vital structures are absent. As an ecological gardener, I love having these beautiful flowers in my garden, however I limit exotics and double-blooming cultivars of native species to 30% or less of my garden plants. I heavily favor native plants that serve important ecosystem roles.

Next time you have the chance to observe a flower up close, see if you can identify their various anatomical structures! You will never look at a flower the same way again.

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