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FLOWERS. Throughout history, flowers, like seeds, leaves, and stems, have contributed to human cookery. But edible flowers, when added to food, provide more than sustenance and flavoring. They add form and color. They are an exception to the rule, a spark of interest, and a spectacle that cannot last. Whole fresh flowers connect people to food in a way that nothing else does. Just as beauty is associated with good in children's fairy tales, so too with food: flowers add to the pleasure of eating. Flowers have long been an essential link in the human food chain. The joining of flower pollen with flower ovules is a starting point in the cycle of life. More than we imagine, life depends on a sequence that starts with flowers and progresses to pollination, seeds, and plants. Without the rebirth of plants, without continuous replacement, life would cease to exist. To sustain life, there must be birth and growth.

Flower Biology

Flowers are the blossoms of plants and the reproductive organs of angiosperms. Edible and nonedible flowers alike have a common concentric structure of distinct parts that, beginning at the base of the flower and proceeding up to the center, include the stem, ovary, sepal, petal, stamen (filament and anther), and pistil (style and stigma). Flower petals are showy, fragrant, and often fully flavored. Sepals, on the other hand, are leaflike structures that enclose the flower before it blooms and, unlike petals, are not valued as a source of food, flavor, or color. Stamens are the male parts, and they produce pollen. Anther sacs hold pollen, and in the case of pine trees, so much pollen is produced in the early spring that it accumulates in masses on lake shorelines and can be scooped up, dried, and used as an ingredient in bread and soups. Pollen is a complete food, rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. It can tone, detoxify, and balance the human organism.

Pistils are the female flower part. When pollen grains light on pistils, they absorb moisture, grow tubes, penetrate ovaries, and, finally, connect to ovules to fertilize seeds. Flower nectaries, or nectar glands, secrete nectar, which is used by bees to form honey. Nectar glands are located at the base of the ovary and above the anther.


In Roman times rose petals were used to flavor cooked brains, sweet marjoram flowers were baked in hash, and safflower petals were used for a boiled sauce. Roses and violets were added to wine to enhance flavor.

Later, in the Middle Ages, rose petals were used to flavor cakes, creams, and confectionery. Both orange blossom and rose petal water are flavorings made from flowers. Since the third and fourth centuries c.e., rose water has been made by steeping petals and then distilling the water. Middle Eastern and Indian sweets such as shola, baklava, firni, and halvah are flavored with rose water. It is also used to flavor Middle Eastern beverages such as lassi and sherbet. Flower use varies from culture to culture and age to age. While in America today roses are used more as a decoration than a flavoring, dried rosebuds are used as a condiment in Asian cookery.

Symbolism and Healing

Flowers are a symbol of life and a source of birth and healing. For example, when placed on a wedding cake flowers signify new life, and at times of sickness and death they comfort the grieving. During the Easter season the passionflower is a symbol of the holy passion, the suffering of Jesus Christ. In ancient Greece the rose symbolized love, beauty, and happiness, and during the Roman era, roses were associated with Venus, the goddess of love.

Edible flowers are used with various foods to mark events such as graduation, marriage, and retirement. Christians associate flowers with Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Epiphany. States and nations have adopted flowers as emblems. For example, the emblem of the Netherlands is the edible tulip, and Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have adopted the violet as their state flower. Four statesGeorgia, Iowa, New York, and North Dakotahave adopted roses. Florida adopted the orange blossom, and Hawaii the hibiscus.

But in addition to their symbolic and spiritual uses, flowers are consumed for their healing properties. Flowers from the great scarlet poppy contain alkaloids such as thebaine, which is a source of codeine. The unripe pods of opium poppies are used to make many alkaloids including morphine, thebaine, narcotine, and codeine. The list of flowers used as medicine is extensive, and it includes arnica used as an anti-inflammatory analgesic and hawthorn used as an antispasmodic, cardiac, and vasodilator. The marsh mallow is a diuretic, antitussive, and demulcent. Passionflowers are a sedative. Rosemary is used as a tonic, diaphoretic, antiseptic, and astringent. And finally, due to their astringent qualities, some flowers, including nasturtiums, roses, and yarrow, are used as bath oils.

Preparation and Consumption

While flowers are often used fresh, they are also preserved for later use when they are stored dried, freeze-dried, candied, crystallized, or even frozen in ice cubes.

Flowers or flower parts are eaten as sweeteners, vegetables, flavorings, beverages, and garnishes. In terms of quantity, the most widely used flower today is the hop, a conelike flower or strobilus that is dried and used to flavor beer and ale and is also an antimicrobial agent. Squash blossoms are served stuffed, fried, or deep-fried. The great variety of flower foods is typified in honey, a sweetener made by bees from flower nectar. Cauliflower, broccoli, and pickled capers are flower buds. Pansy and lilac flowers are crystallized and then used for cake, cookie, and pastry decorations. Lavender, chamomile, lilac, and jasmine flowers are used to make herbal teas. Hibiscus flowers are boiled and sweetened to become agua de jamaica or jamaica water, a Mexican beverage made like tea, but served like iced tea or fruit juice. Violets, mimosa, and forget-me-nots are used to flavor confectionery.

Today, out-of-season blossoms, as well as dried flowers and flowers made of marzipan and frosting, are common on wedding and birthday cakes. Flowers are stored and shipped fresh, pressed, dried, and crystallized. Some institutions even use flowers of plastic, silk, paper, wood shavings, and wire to decorate food. This pursuit of flowers is epitomized by upscale restaurant chefs who order a box of mixed fresh flowers, and then use them indiscriminately, either whole or in parts, as the finishing touch to elegantly served dishes from medallions of venison to creamy custards with Grand Marnier.

The stigmata of the fall-blooming saffron crocus provide an essential spice for the bouillabaisse of southern France, the paella of Spain, the risotto of Italy, and the pilaf and biriani of India. Saffron, which is native to Asia Minor, adds an orange-yellow color to these dishes and gives them a spicy, pungent, and bitter flavor. Today, some of the finest saffron is produced in Spain. Saffron is costly because it must be handpicked; it takes four thousand stigmata to yield one ounce of powdered saffron.


The use of edible flowers as food also raises a number of concerns. First, culinary flowers must be free from insecticides and herbicides. In one sense, assuring toxin-free flowers is easy because fresh flower buds and flowers grow quickly. On some plants it takes only a few days for new buds and flowers to form. On the other hand, commercial flowers are often sprayed to keep them pest-free and visually attractive.

But of even greater concern than pesticides is the loss of historical species. As a result of evolution and environmental degradation, there has been a loss of species and genetic diversity. This, however, is somewhat offset by natural evolution and, in the case of flowers, the constant breeding of new and more beautiful varieties. A third problem is the use of personal or regional nomenclature that makes it difficult to trace the use of flowers in history. Cultures from Native Americans to tribal Africans have celebrated food with flowers, but these traditions are largely lost.

See also Herbs and Spices ; Presentation of Food ; Weddings .


Kowalchik, Claire, and William H. Hylton. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1987.

Morse, Kitty. Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion with Recipes. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1995.

Sohn, Mark F. "From Anise Hyssop to Zucchini: Edible Flowers From Home Gardens." Appalachian News-Express, July 23, 1997.

Sohn, Mark F. Southern Country Cooking. Iowa City: Penfield Press, 1992.

Sohn, Mark F. Mountain Country Cooking: A Gathering of the Best Recipes from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.

Weaver, William Woys. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. NewYork: Henry Holt, 1997.

Mark F. Sohn

Popular Garden Flowers and Their Flavors

ANISE HYSSOP: sweet, anise, or licorice; used to flavor red meats and as an herb

CARNATION: mild to sweet; use petals only in salads

CHIVE: onion smell, peppery, savory; use as garnish, flavoring for meats, salads, sauces

CHRYSANTHEMUM: savory, mild to strong, and bitter(some are poisonous)

DAISY: sweet and savory; flower buds are pickled, flowers used on salads, used to make wine

DANDELION: savory; a bitter herb mentioned in the Old Testament: used in salads and wine, the greens are eaten as a vegetable and sold canned

DAY LILY: savory (can be toxic)

FUCHSIA: mild flavor; use whole as garnish on salads and cooked fish

GRAPE HYACINTH: grape flavor, slightly sour, bitter aftertaste (can be toxic)

HOLLYHOCK: mild; use as garnish or container (can be toxic)

HIBISCUS: slightly acidic, sweet; used in tropical fruit salads

HONEYSUCKLE: sweet; use in salads and with fish

LILAC: strong smell; sweet and savory; crystallize the flowers to use on cakes or confectionary; used in tea blends

MARIGOLD: savory; small four-and five-petal varieties best; use in soups

NASTURTIUM: savory, peppery, piquant, like water-cress; used in salads and used fresh as a garnish for hot vegetables

PANSY: sweet and savory; crystallized to use on cakes; used fresh on salads

POPPY, EUROPEAN AND CALIFORNIA: mild; use in salads for color

RED CLOVER: mild, like hay; used with wild herb salads; add florets to salads

ROSE: sweet to bitter; herbal teas; use old varieties; also used to decorate cold platters of meat and fish

ROSE PETALS: sweet to bitter, crystallize; add to salads; garnish plates

SCENTED GERANIUM: tastes like variety, either lemon or rose used to make tea and an herb in pastry

SQUASH: savory; batter and fry into fritters; serve as vegetable; also served stuffed

SUNFLOWER: member of daisy family; use unopened flowers like artichokes or use the bitter petals; garnish for granola made with sunflower seeds; use with pasta salads

TULIP: mild, sweet to bitter; use with asparagus or rhubarb

VIOLET: sweet; use in salad, as a garnish for poke sallet, an egg dish that includes cooked poke; use crystallized on cakes

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Flowers are the typically showy reproductive organs of angiosperms (flowering plants). Their diverse blooms generate countless horticultural products; functionally flowers are essential for sexual reproduction. Flowers may occur individually on the plant or together with other flowers forming inflorescences. Their flowers and inflorescences are: (1) highly adapted to the plant's ecology and pollination strategy; (2) highly variable among the flowering plants; (3) critically important to plant identification; and (4) subject to their own rich and specialized terminology.

Morphologically and evolutionarily, the flower is regarded as a terminal shoot with variably leaflike lateral appendages . The stem of the flower, known as a pedicel, is connected to the other floral parts via the receptacle. From the outside rim of the receptacle, the first appendages are typically green, leaflike sepals , collectively called the calyx. The next whorl is composed of variously colored and often complex petals, collectively called the corolla.

The androecium forms the next whorl, formed of stamens, each made of a filament and anther. Anther sacs are filled with pollen at maturity. Anthers release the pollen timed to match the receptivity of the female of either the same flower or others of the same species.

The center of the flower is occupied by the gynoecium, which is formed of one or more carpels. Carpels may fuse to form a compound pistil or may remain separate and unfused. The carpel is divided into three regions, from the tip: the stigma, a receptive surface for pollen; the style, a specialized region for pollen tube elongation; and the ovary, a location where immature seeds called ovules occur, containing the female gametophyte or embryo sac. Meiosis occurs deep within the anther to produce many haploid male gametophytes (which become pollen) and deep within the ovule to produce the female gametophyte (or embryo sac).

The group of angiosperms known as monocotyledons typically have floral organs in multiples of three, whereas dicotyledons have floral organs in multiples of four or five. Fusion of floral organs often occurs obscuring these parts and increasing the diversity of floral form. Similar organs fuse in the example of the corolla tube (as in the morning glory), but dissimilar organs fuse in the example of apple flowers.

The largest flowers are species of Rafflesia, a carrion flower measuring up to 2 meters (6 feet) wide. This flower, native to the tropical rain forests of Sumatra, has no leaves or aboveground organs except for the flower. Living up to its name, Rafflesia attracts and is pollinated by carrion flies.

The smallest flower is a duckweed. The smallest duckweeds are members of the genus Wolffia, with the whole plant measuring less than 1 millimeter (.039 inch) across. The flower of this plant is reduced to one pistil and one anther, which are borne on different plants. Other floral parts are vestigial or fail to form.

Organs may also be modified to perform different functions. For example, roses have five petals (as do most dicots), but some or all of the numerous stamens form petal-like staminodes, sterile petal-like stamens that give horticultural roses the appearance of having many more petals. Symmetry of individual flowers may be radial (forming mirror images around the center), or bilateral (forming mirror images along only one plane).

The flower is the focus of considerable metabolic activity for the plant, producing reproductive organs with high energy content. Flowers attract insects and other animal pollinators to visit the flower. In return, pollinators are often provided with a food reward of pollen or nectar to assure this continued relationship. After the flower is fertilized, floral organs, including petals, stigma, and style, die back while seeds form inside the carpels. The tissues surrounding the ovary are dramatically modified to become the fruit.

see also Angiosperms; Fruits; Pollination and Fertilization; Seeds

Scott D. Russell


Uno, Gordon E., Richard Storey, and Randy Moore. Principles of Botany. Boston: Mc-Graw-Hill, 2001.

Young, Paul G., and Jacquelyn Giuffre. The Botany Coloring Book. New York: Harper Perennial, 1982.

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167. Flowers

See also 54. BOTANY ; 319. PLANTS

full bloom of a flower.
the branch of ecology that studies the relationship of flowers to their environment.
Botany. the description of flowers.
Rare. an extreme love for flowers.
the habit, as of larvae, of feeding on flowers. anthophagous, adj.
an abnormal fear of flowers.
the state of bearing small flowers as well as fully developed ones, as in the pansy, in which the small ones do not open but are pollinated by their own anthers. cleistogamous, adj.
a greenhouse, especially one used to grow delicate, rare, and exotic flowers and plants for decorative purposes. See also 284. MUSIC
the condition, in some flowering plants, in which the pistils and stamens mature at different times, thus preventing self-pollination. dichogamous, adj.
the condition of having the stamens and pistils in separate flowers. diclonous, adj.
the process of flowering or blooming. efflorescent, adj.
estivation, aestivation
the arrangement of petals in a flower before it opens; prefloration. Also aestivation.
1 . the state or condition of being in flower or blooming
2 . the period during which this occurs.
3 . a period of great development. florescent, adj.
a garden specifically used for the growth and scientific study of flowers.
one of several varieties of rosé characterized by their long blooming period and their large flowers, often in clusters.
the cultivation of flowers, especially of decorative flowering plants, usually on a commercial scale. floriculturist , n. floricultural, adj.
a mania for plants and flowers.
the condition of similarity in length and location of all the pistils and stamens in flowers of the same species. homogonous, adj.
the Japanese art of flower arrangement, especially for the home.
the phenomenon of a regular structure appearing as an abnormality in flowers which are usually irregular. Also called epanody . peloric, pelorian, adj.
the state of having the pistils, stamens, petals, etc., arranged around a cuplike receptacle. perigynous, adj.
the process by which floral organs turn into foliage. Also phyllomorphy.
a rose garden.
the metamorphosis of various flower organs, as petals or sepals, into stamens.
whole or partial union of several flowers that are usually separate and distinct. synanthous adj.
a mania for planting and growing tulips, especially such a mania in Holland in the 1630s, when a sum equivalent to $5200 was paid for a single bulb. tulipomaniac , n.

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An enormous diversity of size, shape, and complexity exists among the flowers of the quarter-million species of angiosperms . Flower size varies over a thousandfold, with Rafflesia (Rafflesiaceae) flowers as large as 1 meter in diameter dwarfing the minuscule flowers of Wolffia (Lemnaceae), which measure less than 1 millimeter across. The number of floral organs also varies, with the complex flowers of the Tambourissa (Monimiaceae) species having more than one thousand organs while the simple flowers of the Chloranthaceae may consist of just a few. The coevolution of angiosperms with their animal pollinators is a driving force in the generation of flower diversity. The end product of pollination is the formation of a viable seed, therefore ensuring that the species will be perpetuated. Exclusive pollinator-flower relationships ensure that pollen will not be wasted by delivery to flowers of a different species.

Definition and Flower Parts

Despite the enormous diversity in the number, size, and shape of floral organs within the angiosperms, they all are built of four basic organ types (sepals , petals, stamens, and carpels ) whose relative positions are invariant. The flower is an assemblage of sterile and fertile (reproductive) parts borne on a shoot or axis called the receptacle. The sterile parts include the sepals (collectively called the calyx) and the petals (collectively called the corolla). The sepals and petals together constitute the perianth. In a typical flower the sepals are green, and they enclose and protect the young flower before it opens. The petals, whose function is to attract pollinators, exhibit an assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes. In flowers in which the sepals and petals are indistinguishable from each other, such as tulips (Liliaceae), the perianth parts are called tepals .

The reproductive parts can be divided into the androecium and gynoecium . The androecium is composed of stamens, the male floral organs. Stamens usually have an apical anther, in which pollen develops, and a basal filament connecting the anther to the receptacle. One or more carpels constitute the gynoecium. Carpels are made of several functional tissues that facilitate pollination and protect developing ovules and seeds. The stigma on which the pollen germinates, and the style, through which the pollen tube grows toward the ovules, are examples of tissues that are intimately associated with pollination. The ovary, which houses the ovules, provides protection for both the developing ovules and seeds. In addition, the ovary often develops into a fruit that facilitates seed dispersal. The formation of a protected chamber in which the ovules and seeds develop is one of the defining features of angiosperms. The term angiosperm is derived from the Greek angio (a capsule-like covering) and sperm (seed).

Animal Flower Characteristics
Beetle Open flower, white or dull coloring with strong odor (usually fruity, spicy, or similar to the foul odors of fermentation).
Bee Any color but red; flower has nectar at the base of the flower that forces the bee to pass by the stigma and anthers on its way to the nectar.
Butterfly and some moths Flowers tubular in shape, which precludes large insects from crawling into them but allows the long proboscis of the butterfly or moth to enter. Nectar contains amino acids that butterflies require; nectar is their sole food source.
Bird Usually bright and showy flowers, the colors of which are red, orange, or yellow. Because of the bird's high rate of metabolism, bird-pollinated flowers usually produce large quantities of thin nectar. In the Western Hemisphere hummingbirds are the main bird pollinator; in other parts of the world representatives of other specialized bird families (e.g., sunbirds and honeyeaters) act as pollinators.
Bat Large white flowers such as those of the saguaro cactus (Cactaceae), which arevisible in dim light. Bats also require large amounts of nectar.

Function of Flowers

The function of the flower is to facilitate the reproduction of the organism. Cells within the pollen and embryo sac are haploid and are derived from the diploid cells that develop within the anthers and ovules, respectively. In angiosperms, pollination results in double fertilization. The egg cell nucleus fuses with a sperm nucleus to produce the zygote while the other sperm cell nucleus fuses with the two polar nuclei to form the triploid endosperm . The endosperm acts as a food supply for the developing embryo. After fertilization, the ovule with the developing embryo becomes a seed and the ovary becomes the fruit that houses the seed(s).

Diversity of Flowers

Among the quarter-million species of angiosperms, there are many variations of the generalized flower yielding an immense diversity of floral patterns. The diversity is due to variations in the number, symmetry, size, and fusion of floral parts. While most flowers contain both stamens and carpels (and are referred to as hermaphroditic), other flowers are unisexual. These may be either staminate flowers (missing the carpels) or carpellate flowers (missing the stamens). Species bearing both carpellate and staminate flowers on a single plant are referred to as monoecious ("one house"; maize [Gramineae] and oak trees [Fagaceae], for example). In contrast, dioecious ("two houses") species bear staminate and carpellate flowers on different plants (willow [Salicaceae], for example). Monoecism and dioecism, both of which have evolved multiple times within the angiosperms, provide a mechanism to promote outbreeding. Many other species have evolved more subtle mechanisms to promote cross-pollination. For example, plants may be self-incompatible; that is, they discriminate between self and nonself pollen and consequently reject their own pollen. Alternatively, a difference in the timing of maturation of the androecium and gynoecium in hermaphroditic flowers favors outbreeding.

Two conspicuous characters that contribute to floral diversity are the number and size of floral organs. Angiosperms are often divided into two groups based on their cotyledon number: monocotyledons (monocots, meaning one cotyledon) and dicotyledons (dicots, meaning two cotyledons). One of the characters that distinguish monocots from dicots is the number of appendages within a whorl . Monocots usually have flowers with floral parts in multiples of three, whereas the dicots often have floral parts in multiples of four or five. Organ size can also vary enormously. For example, in the species Lepidium (Brassicaeae), the petals are microscopic, but in the genus Camellia (Theaceae), some species have petals 15 centimeters long.

Variations in fusion, arrangement, and symmetry of floral organs provide further diversity. Fusion between organs of the same whorl (coalescence) and fusion of organs from separate whorls (adnation) is common among many families of angiosperms. For instance, coalescence is seen in snapdragon (Antirrhinum, Scrophulariaceae) with the petals fused at the base, and adnation in tobacco (Nicotiana, Solanaceae) with stamens fused to the petals. Position of organ attachment to the receptacle also influences flower architecture. If the corolla and stamens attach to the receptacle below the ovary, the flower is referred to as having a superior ovary (e.g., Liriodendron tulipifera, Magnoliaceae). In contrast, having the corolla and stamens attach to the receptacle above the ovary produces a flower with an inferior ovary (e.g., Iris, Iridaceae). In radially symmetric flowers, termed actinomorphic, all organs within any particular whorl are identical and positioned equidistant from other organs within the whorl (e.g., California poppy Eschscholzia californica, Papaveraceae). Flowers in which organs in a particular whorl differ from other organs in the same whorl are referred to as zygomorphic (e.g., most orchids, Orchidaceae).

While all of the mechanisms generating diversity contribute to their interactions with pollinators, the fusion and asymmetry of floral organs has allowed the evolution of fascinating and often bizarre plant-insect interactions. For example, some species of orchids attract potential pollinators with insect pheromones , luring the insect into a maze constructed of fused petals and stamens in which there is one entrance and one exit. In navigating the maze, the insect both delivers to the stigma of the gynoecium pollen from another flower and picks up a load of pollen to be distributed to another flower.

Evolution of Flowers

While angiosperms are prevalent in the fossil record from the mid-Cretaceous (approximately one hundred million years ago), it is thought that they may have evolved substantially earlier, perhaps as far back as two hundred million years ago. The closest extant relatives of the angiosperms are the gymnosperms, of which conifers are members. Conifers do not have flowers but rather produce female and male cones consisting of scales bearing exposed ovules and pollen sacs, respectively. It's intriguing to consider what evolutionary processes occurred to produce the complex assemblage of floral organs of extant angiosperms. Charles Darwin, upon thinking about this question, stated that flowers are an "abominable mystery." The answer to this question, however, may be found in comparative genetic studies. For example, some of the important regulatory genes promoting floral organ development are also found in conifers. Understanding their function in the cones of conifers may allow scientists to model evolutionary changes that occurred resulting in the formation of early flowers.

It is not clear which features were present in the flowers of the earliest angiosperms. Although by the mid-Cretaceous period angiosperm flowers were already quite diverse, a number of key features of extant flowers had not yet appeared. Fossil flowers from the Cretaceous often have organs that are spirally arranged, a perianth that does not have a distinct calyx and corolla, relatively few stamens, and multiple carpels that are not fused together. The attractiveness of the mainly fly- and beetle-pollinated flowers was due to the androceium, which was composed of anthers attached to showy, leaflike structures. The stigma and style of the early individually fused carpels ran down along the side of the ovary instead of being at the top, as seen in most extant carpels.

There are a number of major evolutionary trends when comparing these Cretaceous flowers to their modern counterparts. For example, in many modern flowers the perianth is differentiated into a distinct calyx and corolla. The evolution of the corolla facilitated the reduction in stature of the androecium such that the stamens are composed of anthers attached to slender filaments rather than large, leaflike appendages. In addition, fusion of organs occurred along with the establishment of zygomorphic flowers, creating flowers with deep, open, funnel-shaped flowers, both innovations allowing the evolution of elaborate pollination strategies. Another evolutionary trend is the formation of a gynoecium made up of multiple fused carpels that have only one stigma and style situated at the apical end of the ovary. This has been hypothesized to provide selection at the level of the male gametophyte , which must grow through these structures to effect fertilization.

Coevolution with Pollinators

The early seed-producing plants (such as conifers) utilize wind to move pollen from the staminate cones to the female ovule-bearing cones. To ensure that enough viable seeds are generated, copious quantities of pollen need to be produced. This process requires the expenditure of large amounts of stored resources and is not very efficient. Utilizing insects to transfer pollen to other flowers enables angiosperms to produce less pollen and still maintain a high fecundity in comparison with wind-pollinated plants. In contrast to flowers of early angiosperms, extant flowers have evolved highly attractive characters to ensure that a specific pollinator continues to visit flowers from a specific species of plant. Flowers provide special sources of food for their pollinators to induce them to visit similar flowers. In addition to pollen and other edible floral parts, nectaries provide nectar, a high-energy food source for animals that can sometimes contain amino acids, proteins, lipids, antioxidants , and alkaloids.

Many of the modifications that have evolved in angiosperm flowers are adaptations to promote constancy in pollinator visitation. However, not all angiosperm flowers require animal pollinators. The grasses, which evolved from insect-pollinated flowers, are wind-pollinated. The flowers of grasses are small with reduced or absent petals, and they produce large amounts of pollen.

The Development of Flowers

A basic floral ground plan exists that defines the relationship between organ type and position in all angiosperm species. Because of the constancy in the relative positions of floral organ types, it is hypothesized that a common genetic program to specify floral organ identity is utilized during the development of all flowers. Floral organs are ultimately derived from primordia that arise from the flanks of the flower meristem . It is thought that cells within the flower meristem assess their position relative to other cells and differentiate into the appropriate floral organ based on this positional information.

To clarify how the identity of flower organ primordia is specified, researchers have taken a genetic approach. Mutations affecting flowers and their organs provide a powerful means for studying the genetic interactions involved in their development. Differences in the development of mutant versus normal (wild-type) plants reveal the function of the mutated gene. To carry out this work, researchers use two model plant systems, Arabidopsis (Brassicaceae) and Antirrhinum (Scrophulariaceae), and screen plants that have induced mutations in their genome . Studies have focused on a particular set of homeotic mutations. In homeotic mutants, normal organs develop in the positions where organs of another type are typically found. Specifically, the Arabidopsis floral homeotic mutations result in transformations of one floral organ type into another floral organ type.

It is of interest to note that several homeotic mutants exist in commonly cultivated garden plants. For example, a wild rose flower has five petals, and yet some of the hybrid tea roses have many times that number. Similar situations exist for camellias and carnations. These hybrid varieties represent changes in the genetic constitution of the plant to yield alterations in the floral architecture, which some people find attractive.

see also Angiosperms; Genetic Mechanisms and Development; Identification of Plants; Inflorescence; Interactions, Plant-Insect; Pollination Biology.

Stuart F. Baum

John L. Bowman


Bentley, Barbara, and Thomas Elias, eds. The Biology of Nectaries. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Campbell, Neil A. Biology, 3rd ed. Redwood City, CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1993.

Crepet, W. L., and E. M. Friis. "The Evolution of Insect Pollination in Angiosperms."In The Origins of Angiosperms and Their Biological Consequences, eds. Else Marie Friis, William G. Chaloner, and Peter R. Crane. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Heywood, V. H. Flowering Plants of the World. New York: Oxford University Press,1993.

Meyerowitz, Elliot M. "The Genetics of Flower Development." Scientific American 271 (1994): 56-57, 60-65.

Raven, Peter H., Ray F. Evert, and Susan E. Eichhorn. Biology of Plants. New York:Worth Publishers, Inc., 1986.

Rost, Thomas L., Michael G. Barbour, C. Ralph Stocking, and Terence M. Murphy. Plant Biology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.

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"Flowers." Plant Sciences. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Flowers." Plant Sciences. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from


273. Flowers

  1. Anthea epithet of Hera, meaning flowery. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 121]
  2. Anthesteria ancient Athenian festival, celebrating flowers and new wine. [Gk. Hist.: Misc.]
  3. Black Tulip, The Dumas romance involved with tulipomania of 17th-century Holland. [Fr. Lit.: Benét, 111]
  4. Chloris goddess of flowers. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 59]
  5. Tournament of Roses New Years Day flower festival and parade in Pasadena. [Am. Cult.: WB, C:45]
  6. Zephyr and Flora wedded pair, scatter flowers from cornucopia. [Rom. Myth.: Hall, 125]

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"Flowers." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Flowers." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from


flowers no flowers by request an intimation that no flowers are desired at a funeral; the writer and humorist Alfred Ainger (1837–1904) used the phrase at a dinner for contributors in 1897 to sum up the principles on which the Dictionary of National Biography was being compiled.

see also hearts and flowers.

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"flowers." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"flowers." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . (December 11, 2017).

"flowers." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from


Flowers •has • Sayers •Algiers, cheers, Pamirs, Pears, Piers, Sears, Spears •Teniers •Blackfriars, Briers, pliers •Greyfriars •Bowers, Flowers, ours, Powers, Towers •bejabers • Chambers • Sobers •Scriptures • weight-watchers •glanders, Landers, Randers, sanders •alexanders, Flanders •Enders • Childers • flinders •Saunders • Bermudas • butterfingers •Tigers • Rodgers • starkers •Chequers • Snickers • camiknickers •bonkers • bluchers • Moluccas •Sellers • binoculars • Bahamas •Summers • Marianas • Connors •champers, Pampers •jeepers • jodhpurs • Messrs • Masters •Peters • squitters • Winters •headquarters, hindquarters, Waters •Klosters • Butters •Smithers, withers •Carothers, druthers •Travers • Havers • cleavers • Rivers •vivers • estovers • Marquesas

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"Flowers." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Flowers." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 11, 2017).

"Flowers." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from