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How Flowers Work

Handsome colors, attractive shapes, and sweet aromas, these are some of the things that flowers offer to gardeners. But there are more to flowers than meet the eye.

For many kinds of plants, flowers are a means of survival. These are the basic means by which they continue the existence of their species.

Letís look at the different kinds of flowers and see how they are constructed. When a blossom contains both male and female parts, it is considered a perfect flower or hermaphrodite. Most cacti flowers fall within this category. In some other plants, the male and female flowers can be separate or even occur on separate plants. The best known example of the latter is the holly with berries occurring only on female plants. A male holly plant is required for fruit and seed production.

The reproductive parts of flowers can often be seen by the naked eye. Sometimes, a small hand lens or magnifying glass will help.

The equivalent of the male part is called a stamen. This consists of the top portion, the anther, and a slender support, called the filament. The anther is where the pollen is produced. This powdery pollen must be moved somehow from the male to the female reproductive parts for seed to be
produced.

The female part is called the pistil. This consists of the stigma, which has a sticky surface on which the pollen must land for pollination to occur. The pistil also contains the style, a stalk-like structure. Once the pollen travels the length of the style it reaches the ovary, located at the bottom of the flower. This is where fertilization or the union of the female and male occurs. At that point, the ovary gives rise to a fruit, which contains the seeds.

Other flower parts are the corolla, which is basically all of the petals. The calyx is made up of the individual green sepals, which protect the flower in bud. The calyx and corolla combined are called the perianth. The receptacle is at the top of the flower stalk upon which the flower parts are borne. Sometimes, the receptacle becomes part of the mature fruit, as in the case of the strawberry.

Sometimes, flowers and plants can confuse us. The red of the poinsettia, for instance, comes from the colorful bracts. The actual blossoms are small and inconspicuous. These are produced in the center of the cluster of the red bracts

Flowers are wonderful in many ways. However, it takes lots of plant energy to produce these blossoms. In essence, the plant is taking a gamble that the flowering process is worth it in terms of survival. By blooming, it has a good chance of producing seeds, which give rise to future generations of plants.

In many cases, pollination is necessary for seed/fruit production. However, some cactus blossoms donít require pollination. These species have self-fertile flowers that donít even bother opening. Yet, they can produce seeds.

When pollination is necessary, this can occur in various ways. For most cacti and succulents, this requires a pollinator of some sort to move the pollen from one flower to another. Insects, especially bees, are one of the most common pollinators.

Plants which depend upon bees have flowers that are brightly colored. Nectar is the main attraction in bee flowers. These offer the sugary fluid which becomes the basis of honey.

The flowers of the different kinds of cacti differ greatly in appearance. For the most part, they fall within two broad categories. They are remotely daisy-like by being round and flattish. Or they are elaborately shaped, such as bell-shaped, funnel-shaped, or tubular. The Christmas cactus falls within this group.

It is easier to generalize with the cacti than with the succulents. Succulents actually belong to many separate families, while cacti are only in Cactaceae. There are succulents in the daisy family and even in the lily family and the milkweed family.

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