And all this time I thought they were petals!

I just got home from my second day in the Master Gardener program and am still grinning from ear to ear with all the fun I had today. I have made a mental note not to talk to any of my close friends right after I leave a session until I have had the opportunity to come down from my high and reflect through my blog. My lovely friend Radhi got fifteen minutes of Botany 101 and amazing facts about flowers when I called her upon leaving my class today. It’s just that what I learned today rocked my world and shook up what previous understanding I had about plants and flowers.

In about six hours today, we dug into the world of botany – from the plants’ cells and chromosomes, to their internal vascular system, to the inner workings of the plants’ structures (roots, stems, leaves, and flowers). Besides all that, we discussed plant physiology and things you’d probably remember from high school biology, like photosynthesis and plant reproduction. Then, to top it all off, we learned how to begin identifying plants with a key by looking at the different features of their leaves and flowers.
So, in an effort to not completely lose you with my garden nerd discoveries, I will just share a few incredible factoids:
  1. All those layers you see when you cut open an onion are actually leaves – scale-like leaves stored with “food”. The small part at the base of an onion where the little root hairs stick out is the stem!
  2. Each kernel of corn is actually a fruit that contains a seed inside. Also, if you’re going to plant corn, it’s best to plant it in a block rather than in a row so that you have better luck with pollination. This is my understanding in a nut shell: the part that sticks up at the top of a stalk of corn is the male part of the plant, which releases pollen to the wind. That pollen then needs to get blown down to the female plant part, the little corn silks sticking out. If the pollen gets down from the male part of the plant to the female silks below, you’ll get a baby corn! So, if your corn plot is in a block, there’s a better chance that the wind will get that pollen on to your plant. Isn’t that amazing?
  3. A potato is not actually a root – it’s a fleshy underground stem (a tuber)!
  4. There’s always a bud at the base of a leaf. So, something that may look like a stem with little leaves on it, may actually be a bunch of leaflets that together make one leaf! Find the bud and you’ll have a leaf!
  5. A fruit (and tons of vegetables for that matter since many of the plants we call vegetables are actually fruits) is a mature ovary that has been fertilized with pollen and has developed into a fruit with seeds.
Finally, the most incredible news of all: I learned today that the members of the Daisy Family (ASTERACEAE) – Chrysanthemums, Cosmos, Dahlias, Black-Eyed Susans, Marigolds, Sunflowers, and Zinnia, just to name a few, are actually small flowers in a head which looks like a large flower. In other words, each of those beautiful “petals” is actually a flower. Those “petals” on the outside of the flower, the ones that are colorful, are called ray flowers and contain the female flower part. The short squat structures in the center that sometime look like one solid mass, are actually little flowers too called disk flowers. They are the male flower parts that produce pollen. Even as I write this, I am still blown away at how amazing it is to be receiving this new information. It’s just more proof that so often, there is way more than meets the eye.

6 thoughts on “And all this time I thought they were petals!

  1. radhi

    i'm not even close to a gardener, and these are interesting little tid bits to me! like you said, i feel like i've been duped all this time! i'm so glad you're having so much fun and learning so much!

  2. anner

    That reminds me how much I enjoyed the botany quarter of biology at UW. The professor and TA were so enthusiastic and the information was so interesting because it was about plants we eat and interact with all the time.

  3. Kat

    I totally agree with you about having my socks rocked by the flower dissections and learning the bit about "every petal is its own flower"… the more I learn about nature, the more I lovelovelove it. See you at class this Saturday!

  4. Pingback: Less talk, more forage: Nettles | Seattle Seedling

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