Deb Babcock: Anatomy of a flower

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

One of the hardest parts of trying to help someone with a gardening problem is identifying the plant with the issues. This is especially true when master gardeners try to diagnose problems or identify a plant for someone over the phone.

Sometimes, it seems as though we are talking one language and our caller is using another one.

For example, we might start by asking what the flower looks like. In addition to shape, color and size, we often need to know the number and shape of petals, how the leaves (if any) are situated on the stem and what they look like, how many sepals in the calyx, whether it has carpels and/or stamens and how many anthers it might have.

Hold on! Sepals? Anthers? Carpels? Stigmas? Styles? Calyxes?

On a flower, the petals are usually the colorful leafy structures that are located between the stem and the reproductive organs of the plant. The group of petals that form the flower is called a corolla. These are usually designed to attract pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and insects that will become covered in pollen from the plant when they partake of the nectar it produces.

The sepals are the small leaves just under the petals of a flower. All of the sepals together form what is called the calyx. They cover the outside of the flower bud to protect it from the elements and predators until it is time to open up.

Some flowers are called perfect flowers because they contain female and male reproductive organs within the same plants; others are imperfect flowers because they contain organs of only one sex.

The male organs on a flower include the anther and filament. An anther is the often orange or yellow pollen-covered round or oval ball that sits atop a long thin strand, or filament, that grows out of the ovary in the center of the flower. The anther and filament together are called the stamen.

The female organs include ovary, ovule, style and stigma. The ovary generally sits down at the base of the petals and contains ovules which are reproductive cells that turn into seeds when the flower is pollinated. The hollow structure that holds the ovary is a carpel; sometimes there are several carpels fused together in one flower. The style is a tube that sits on top of the ovary and the stigma is a sticky tip on top of the style where pollen is deposited during fertilization. The stigma, style and ovary together are called the pistil.

When a master gardener asks you to describe your flower, these are the terms we will be looking for when using the plant identification guides to help guide us through a series of choices, narrowing down the selection until just one plant fits all the criteria. Or, you could just bring it into the Extension Office, and we’ll look at it for you.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Cooperative Extension Office in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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