"...the best (or at least most beautiful) part of
Botanically speaking, the sole
function of the flower is reproductiona flower
is simply a modified shoot bearing specially adapted leaves. We might like to think those
beautiful colors and fragrances are there to please us, but flowers have evolved over
millennia to attract pollinators, or otherwise
ensure the mechanics of fertilization. (Fertilization and the role of flowers in plant
reproduction are covered in detail in Exploring the Garden: Plant Relationships &
Flowers have adapted some very clever ways to attract
pollinators. Were all familiar with brightly-colored flowers that promise sweet
nectar to foraging bees. In the process of gathering nectar, the bees inadvertently pick
up pollen and carry it to the next flower, fertilizing it. But consider also the hammer
orchid, whose flower evolved to resemble a female wasp to attract its pollinatoryou
guessed it, a male wasp. Or skunk cabbage, whose strong odor attracts pollinating beetles.
And then there are the beautiful color patterns on foxglove and irislike the lights
on an airport runway, these patterns guide pollinators to the flowers nectar (and
Though theres an almost endless variety of flower
shapes, there are some common features that most flowers share.
The stamen is the male part of the
flower; the pistil is the female part.
Plants that have evolved to be pollinated by
the wind usually have relatively non-showy flowers. Think of grass flowersthose
fluffy or spiky headsor the flowers on many trees such as birches or walnuts. Though
sometimes deemed "insignificant" by gardeners, these flowers too carry the
responsibility for continuing the species.
We've mentioned bees and
beetles as pollinating insects. Other important pollinators include butterflies, moths,
ants, hummingbirds, and even bats! Different pollinators are attracted to different
thingsthe scent, color, and shape of the flowers, or quality of nectar, for example.
Think of some of the more interestingly shaped flowers in your garden. Then imagine how
they might attract different pollinators. (For example, hummingbirds, with their long,
slender bills, are attracted to trumpet-shaped flowers; flowers that bloom at night