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A Closer Look at a Flower

For many of us, the most visually stunning part of any flowering plant is indeed the flower itself. Personally, I am amazed by the intricacy of flowers, and am always bending down to pull back the petals (gently of course!) and get a closer look at the various components. Rarely, though, do I go a step further and consider the names of all these brightly colored and uniquely shaped parts and the roles they play in the life of a plant.

Most basically, the flower is the part of a plant comprising its reproductive organs. Reproduction is a critical part to any plant’s life cycle, as it is the process by which a mature plant gives rise to new plants. Reproduction happens through the process of pollination, the transfer of pollen (substance containing male genetic material) to the female organs.

We can break down a flower into two basic parts: the stamen and pistil. The stamen is considered the male part and is made up of slender filaments and more bulbous structures called anthers. Anthers are attached to the filaments and importantly, bear pollen. The female part, known as the pistil, is shaped like a slender vase. From the swollen base of the pistil (referred to as the ovary) rises the style, a stalk-like structure. At the tip of the style resides the stigma, the part of the pistil that receives pollen. The flower petals, so often the colorful parts of flowers that first grab our gaze, surround these central organs. The petals, stamen, and pistil all attach to one another at the underlying receptacle. The receptacle is considered the very end of the stem.

Whole flowers and their individual parts have been used for millennia in traditional medicine. According to the US Forest Service, the entire flower of chamomile and clove plants are often used. Comparatively, it is common to use the stamens of saffron and the stigmas of maize for medicinal purposes. Exciting new things to consider as rain arrives on the Central Coast, promising many opportunities to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and consider all the extraordinary parts of a flower in bloom.

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