Flowers are one of the very many things in nature that absolutely fascinate me. They are simple yet exquisitely diverse and adaptable. After the rains, wild flowers almost miraculously transform the rather drab and dry looking winter bushveld into a marage of colour, texture and life.
But what is a flower? Well, also known as a blossom or a bloom, a flower is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants. Their main role is to ensure a plant’s boy parts meet a plant’s girl parts so that baby plants can be made. This is achieved in one of two ways. Either through ‘outcrossing’ whereby there is a fusion of sperm (which is found in the pollen) and eggs (which are found in the ovary) from different individual plants, or through ‘selfing’ where it all happens in the same flower.
Flowers have evolved to attract the attention of animals, with some flowers focusing all their attention on one particular species, while others aren’t too fussy. The aim, of course, is to get the animals to act as vectors or transporters of their pollen. In other words to transfer the sperm laden pollen to another flowers eggs in the ovary. They also make use of abiotic (non-living) transporters for their pollen, mainly being wind and water.
Interestingly, flowers that target biotic (living) transporters have pollen glands called ‘nectaries’. These ‘nectaries’ act as an incentive for the animal to visit the flower. Some Flowers even have patterns called ‘nectar guides’ that show pollinators where to look for the pollen. These nectar guides may even have UV colouration!
Flowers that contain both female reproductive organs, carpels, and male reproductive organs, stamens, are called perfect or bisexual flowers, where as flowers that contain only one or the other are called imperfect or unisexual flowers.
In case the shear visual beauty of flowers isn’t enough to earn your appreciation, they make use of scent as well. Whether it be as the pleasant scent of a rose or the horrendous scent of a carrion flower (aimed at attracting flies), flowers certainly know how to get the attention they need!