an up-close take a look at flowers: ‘florapedia’ with carol gracie


THERE’S THE so-called language of flowers, as within the symbolism or sentiment attributed to a rose versus a pansy or a daisy. And then there’s the precise language of flowers in botany, as in what’s a sepal or a tepal and a bract, or what’s an ideal flower, technically talking?

Those are among the many eclectic classes, each scientific historic and simply plant fascinating, that I took away from a brand new little e book with an enormous title, “Florapedia: A Brief Compendium of Floral Lore,” (affiliate hyperlink) by Carol Gracie. We began out fairly geeky, getting a 101 from Carol on plant elements, after which talked about violets’ hidden backup set of flowers and Tulipomania and extra.

Carol is a naturalist and photographer and well-liked lecturer who has written a number of earlier books on wildflowers, together with “Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast” and “Summer Wildflowers of the Northeast,” each in my cabinet right here.

Plus: Enter to win a replica of her new e book by commenting within the field close to the underside of the web page.

Read alongside as you take heed to the April 19, 2021 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

‘florapedia’ with carol gracie



Margaret Roach: I believe this new little e book “Florapedia” is a part of a collection from Princeton University Press. I consider there was a “Fungipedia” first, if I recall accurately.

Carol Gracie: Right. That got here out final yr, and doubtless in June, there’ll be “Birdpedia,” adopted by “Treepedia,” adopted by “Dinopedia.” They intend to make an entire collection of books based mostly on pure historical past.

Margaret: It’s enjoyable, they’re little books—they’re sort of a fantastic little gifty sort of factor. The e book is an A-to-Z of quick entries, all types of subjects. And if we’re speaking flowers and the vocabulary hooked up to them, possibly we should always simply begin with the phrase inflorescence. What is an inflorescence?

Carol: Well, an inflorescence is often considered by most individuals as a flower. They will take a look at for example, a daisy, and say, “Oh, look at the daisy flower.” But in reality, a daisy is comprised of many, many flowers, as are most members of that household, the Asteraceae or the daisy household. They’ll do the identical factor with skunk cabbage, they’ll say, “Oh, the flowers of skunk cabbage are up.” But in reality, skunk cabbage is an inflorescence that’s made up of actually a modified leaf, that kind of encloses a bit of ball-like spadix, it’s referred to as, on that are the true flowers, many, most of the true flowers.

So you need to watch out if you’re speaking about what’s a flower. Sometimes what appears to be like like a flower is definitely many flowers.

Margaret: Sometimes it’s like there’s window-dressing, and we will discuss among the functions for that, that’s not the… and we are saying “flower,” if we’re pondering of a florist’s association, “the flower.” But it’s typically the extra delicate inside elements or a few of them aren’t inside, however the extra delicate elements which can be the precise reproductive. Is a flower or reproductive half, is that what it technically is?

Carol: You’re proper, the flower is the reproductive a part of a plant. Essentially it has to have at the very least the male or the feminine half. In most circumstances, it should have each, by which case it’s referred to as an ideal flower, which doesn’t imply that it’s completely stunning or something like that [laughter], it has each female and male elements.

Margaret: Funny. And you simply talked about skunk cabbage. Now that may be a good, isn’t that an ideal flower. I’m making an attempt to recollect. My botany is a bit of tough typically. Is that an ideal flower that has female and male?

Carol: Right. Each a type of little flowers that’s studded on the spadix inside that enclosing spathe is ideal. It has each female and male elements. Extremely easy flowers, that’s actually, mainly all they’ve.

Margaret: Right. It’s humorous as a result of I consider its cousin, taxonomically talking, Jack-in-the-pulpit or Arisaema—despite the fact that they’re associated, and despite the fact that it has the title Jack [laughter], it’s not an ideal flower, is it?

Carol: That’s true. They’re usually both male or feminine flowers on its spadix. Occasionally you’ll discover a uncommon plant that has each. I’ve by no means seen one myself. Usually the bigger ones are feminine, as a result of they want the vitality to develop fruits and seeds and the smaller ones are male. [Illustration, top of page.]

Margaret: Right. When individuals say “inflorescence,” it’s not that it conjures a selected, exact visible. It will be very totally different, and there are various kinds of inflorescences. I believe there’s racemes and panicles and umbels. There’s these various kinds of them. As I stated, it’s not only one visible. When I say in fluorescence, you don’t know precisely what it’s going to appear like. [Examples above from Wikipedia illustration.]

Carol: Right. The inflorescence simply refers back to the association or the grouping of flowers on the flower stalk. For occasion, it could be only a spike by which case little flowers are hooked up on to the stalk, however there are a number of of them. People might discuss with it as a flower, nevertheless it’s truly a number of flowers alongside that stalk.

And if every flower has a bit of pedicel attaching it to the stalk, then it’s a raceme. There are all kinds of phrases to explain how the flowers are hooked up to the principle peduncle or, or stalk, of the inflorescence.

Margaret: You stated those that, for example, an instance of ones that may have tiny ones proper on the stalk, the mint household’s like that. And I believe individuals may get a visible of that in the event that they know something within the mint household. And it doesn’t have these, do you say pedicel, the little tiny stalks that in another of those preparations, different sorts of inflorescences, every little flower is sort of on a teeny little stalk off the principle stalk.

Carol: That’s proper. And in some circumstances, you talked about umbels, in that case, they’re on often longer stalks which can be organized all at one level on the principle stem and are available off in order that the tip of it reaches the identical degree because the one subsequent to it, and subsequent to it, and subsequent to it, and kinds a kind of flat or dome-shaped inflorescence. And should you consider Queen Anne’s lace, that may be instance of an umbel.

I at all times consider it as kind of an upside-down umbrella.

Margaret: I really like that. I really like that within the e book. I began to giggle as a result of I believed, oh, in fact it’s. That’s the structure if I consider it that manner [laughter].

Now it’s sort of dizzying once more, racemes, panicles, corymbs, umbels. Oh my goodness. But there have to be methodology to this insanity of all these phrases. The precision has a objective scientifically talking, sure?

Carol: It does as a result of many vegetation in sure households solely have one explicit sort of inflorescence.

Margaret: Right.

Carol: They can use these to outline a household by. For occasion, within the daisy household, what contains these many, many flowers that we talked about, for example, the yellow heart of the daisy and the white surrounding petal-like buildings, are all a part of what’s referred to as a composite head. And the inside ones are disc flowers—they’re the middle of the disc. And the outer ones are ray flowers. And relying on the species that you just’re speaking about, all of these flowers might have reproductive elements inside them, or some could also be sterile and possibly they’re simply to draw bugs.

Margaret: Right. And that will get to the aim, and what we name a flower isn’t essentially the flower—the place the motion is. In some varieties, in some circumstances, most likely in loads of circumstances, it truly is the window dressing meant to draw the wanted insect interactions and so forth.

Carol: In virtually all circumstances that’s true, both by colour or perfume in some circumstances. But should you assume now, should you look out within the woods, should you see that kind of reddish haze that’s on the market or in some circumstances it’s a brownish haze. Those are flowers of the crimson maple timber or elm timber, and so they have quite simple flowers.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that the crimson maple flowers are very small, they’re typically pollinated by bugs, as a result of they do produce nectar and copious quantities of pollen which can be collected often by small bees, mason bees particularly are good pollinators. They do produce nectar to draw them as effectively.

Whereas the elm flowers are strictly wind-pollinated, so that they don’t must be showy in any respect. They simply kind of dangle there and their male elements let the wind carry the pollen away to land on the feminine elements of different timber.

Margaret: Right. Maybe we should always get a bit of fast tour from you of some floral elements, as a result of among the phrases, they virtually sound like anagrams of one another—like petal, tepal, sepal. [Below, Cornus canadensis or bunchberry has showy white bracts that look like petals but technically are not.]

Carol: Right, proper. I don’t know the way these had been developed, however the etymology is that the sepals are often the outer whorl of a flower. If you’re employed your manner from outer to inside heart of the flower, the sepal’s major job is to guard the flower whereas it’s in bud, usually.

There are at all times exceptions to all these guidelines. For occasion, I can consider Hepatica, which is simply starting to bloom now. And in that case, the sepals are petal-like, they’re coloured pink or purple or white, and so they’re the principle attractant for bugs. The flower doesn’t have true sepals, it has outer fuzzy bracts that cowl the buds earlier than the flower opens.

As I say, there are at all times exceptions, however typically, most flowers have sepals, which cowl the buds. Sometimes they fall off afterwards as with bloodroot, they in a short time fall off.

And then the following whorl of flower elements as you’re heading inward are the petals, and their objective is usually to draw bugs. They’re often colourful.

Working your manner in, would be the male elements, the stamens, that are comprised of filaments and the anthers bearing the pollen.

And on the heart is the pistil or in lots of circumstances, a number of pistils, which every pistil is comprised of an the ovary, the construction that can become the fruit and include the seeds, topped by a pistil in lots of circumstances, not all circumstances, after which a stigma, which is the receptive half on which the pollen lands. Once the pollen lands on that receptive stigma, it truly begins to develop a protracted tube down into the ovary the place the ovules are and launch sperm that really go down by that tube to fertilize the egg cells.

Margaret: It’s wonderful.

Carol: It’s actually much more difficult than you assume.

Margaret: Right. And once more, it’s not simply, “Oh, look at the pretty flower.” There’s a lot complexity happening. And the coevolutionary historical past that’s being mirrored in the way in which these elements are structured, coloured, showcased, whether or not they have perfume, whether or not they have dot, dot, dot, dot, dot. The coevolution with the kind of companion animals, typically bugs, it’s simply fascinating.

Carol: And typically it’s very strict. Sometimes it’s a one-on-one relationship. Only one particular species of insect will likely be appropriate for pollination of that flower. And the bugs typically use cues, a few of which we will see.

They’re typically, for example, on spring magnificence, you will have the pink strains that head down towards the middle, which truly helps information the bugs all the way down to the place the nectar is, at a bit of yellow spot on the base of every petal.

But typically these cues are solely seen to bugs, they type a UV sample that we will’t see with our eyes. But should you take a look at it below blacklight or UVA gentle, they are often seen. And it makes virtually an excellent bullseye that’s stunning typically in its distinction the remainder of the flower. It makes it straightforward for the insect to not waste its time trying to find the nectar, however is invisible to us.

Margaret: I typically consider it as like the varied patterns on the floor of an airport, the runways and so forth [laughter]. It’s over right here, over right here or the blokes with the lights, holding the lights and shaking the lights and exhibiting the aircraft the place to go.

Carol: That’s what it’s like. That’s analogy.

Margaret: Yeah. I wished to only derail for a second and discuss, typically there are flowers that we don’t see. We’ve been speaking about ones that possibly can be extra seen if we poked round above floor. Sometimes there’s ones which can be hidden, just like the violets have at all times fascinated me. And may we discuss these? Are they referred to as cleistogamous? Is that what these are referred to as?

Carol: Exactly. Right. Violets have two sorts of flowers. They have the beautiful white or purple or yellow showy flowers that we see and that bugs go to, however additionally they produce one other sort of flower that by no means open, down on the base of the plant.

Usually they’re produced later within the season, and so they function kind of a backup. Say it’s a chilly wet spring and there aren’t very many bugs flying on the time the violets are in flower so the plant will not be very profitable in reproducing. In that case, it could reproduce inside that cleistogamous flower, that very tiny what appears to be like like a bit of tiny flower bud that by no means opens. It has quite simple female and male reproductive buildings inside. The male construction pollinates the feminine construction and it truly produces seeds.

But in fact these seeds will not be as fascinating as people who can be outcrossed [cross-pollinated by another plant] as a result of they don’t get the genetic variety that you’d get simply as in animal breeding or the rest. You need that variety within the genetic make-up.

But not solely violets have that cleistogamous flower, but in addition jewelweed. Later within the yr, you’ll discover… It’s troublesome to inform whether or not it’s a little flower, however I’ve solely been in a position to inform by going again day after day and taking a look at them, that these are cleistogamous flowers as effectively. And they will reproduce in that manner, and so they don’t have the seedpods that spring out and make all people amazed once they shoot their seeds out.

Margaret: I believe there’s most likely a phrase for that, too [laughter]. When seeds are shot round, there’s most likely a, a scientific phrase for that too, as a result of there’s a phrase for all the things.

Carol: Right. Right. I simply name it wonderful [laughter].

Margaret: Yes, certainly. If the kind of hidden backup set of flowers, less complicated flowers down there, is cleistogamous, are those above floor, have they got a label, too? Are they referred to as one thing else?

Carol: Of course they do they’re referred to as chasmogamous.

Margaret: Chasmogamous. O.Okay., that’s the phrase of the day [laughter]. Oh my goodness.

Carol: Cleistogamy actually comes from the identical root as cloistered, they’re kind of protected and enclosed like that.

Margaret: Right. That is smart.

I’m wondering in doing this A to Z, this little e book “Florapedia,” there have been some belongings you most likely knew you had been going to place in and others that you just didn’t and belongings you occurred on. I’m certain you probably did a number of analysis, despite the fact that you already had loads of information. And possibly one topical one, it’s virtually the time for them is tulips. There had been a few entries associated to tulips. And I’m wondering if you wish to give us a bit of, ha ha, tiptoe by the tulips [laughter].

Carol: Sure. Tulips ought to be blooming in our a part of the world pretty quickly. I even have some species tulips rising right here, however they’re not fairly in bloom but. They bloom a bit of sooner than the others.

But the tulip itself is native primarily to Central Asia and to the Balkan area. And they’ve been favored, as soon as they had been introduced westward, as prime examples of the fantastic thing about a flower. They are a type of flowers—you talked about tepals someday earlier on this discuss—which can be comprised of six tepals, which is actually only a technical time period for the outer whorl of three sepals and the inside whorl of three petals, which appears to be like virtually similar. It’s utilized in most members of the lily household, lilies themselves, daylilies, tulips. They have six tepals. The reproductive elements are straightforward to see in tulip and they’re extremely stunning. The tulips have been developed by people from 75 wild species, to now about 6,000 registered cultivars.

Margaret: Wow.

Carol: There’s a fantastic demand for tulips, and this demand was at its peak again within the early 1600s, throughout a time that’s now known as Tulipomania. It was most likely the primary large monetary bubble. And at that time, tulips may promote one explicit bulb may promote for possibly anyone’s complete property or property can be exchanged for that one bulb. That’s how vital they had been as a standing symbols and as prime backyard vegetation.

And people who had been favored, unusually sufficient, had been people who suffered from a virus, which was not identified at that time, however they had been those that developed these possibly crimson and white or purple and white streaked petals. They’re referred to as damaged tulips.

Margaret: Broken.

Carol: Because the sample is damaged like that. And they had been typically portrayed by the Dutch still-life painters. in lots of these previous work. But it was stand that that streaking is attributable to a mosaic virus, which in reality is detrimental to the vegetation over all. Eventually they’ll unfold that virus to different vegetation, and the vegetation will weaken due to it and finally die out.

Margaret: Right. Was there one other one which sort of was a bit of little bit of a discovery for you or one thing enjoyable that you just bear in mind in doing the sort of homework that led to this e book? Any different enjoyable ones there?

Carol: Well what was enjoyable was that Princeton gave me free-range so long as it linked in some way with flowers. And so it allowed me to look into historic subjects, and subjects having to do with artwork and artists who painted or drew flowers.

For occasion, the artists who traveled with the early plant explorers had been extraordinarily vital as a result of that they had no solution to take images of this stuff in flower. And typically by the point they bought what they tried to take again as residing specimens again, they had been now not wanting as if they had been going to outlive. Most didn’t survive, so they simply had the pressed specimens. So these botanical artists had been extraordinarily vital on the early expeditions.

And at the moment, most of that’s been changed by images. But with images, you possibly can’t at all times present each a part of a flower, the way in which a botanical artist can. Where she or he might take it aside and draw every separate half. Many scientists nonetheless prefer to take a botanical artist with them typically. Although these artists are very expert at working from dried pressed plant specimens, and even taking the dried flowers or pickled flowers and boiling them as much as get three-dimensional construction and having the ability to draw the flower from that.

Margaret: You bought to incorporate a few of these as entries in your A to Z in “Florapedia.” Well Carol, it’s at all times good to speak to you. And I sit up for sometime earlier than lengthy happening one other stroll collectively and really taking a look at flowers collectively in actual life.

Carol: Oh, I hope earlier than too lengthy.

(Illustrations besides as famous above from “Florapedia: A Brief Compendium of Floral Lore” by Carol Gracie, Illustrations by Amy Jean Porter. Copyright 2021 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.)

enter to win a replica of ‘florapedia’

I’LL BUY A COPY of “Florapedia: A Brief Compendium of Floral Lore” by Carol Gracie, for one fortunate reader. All you need to do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field under:

Any tulips blooming at your house this spring–“broken” or in any other case? Tell us about them.

No reply, or feeling shy? Just say one thing like “count me in” and I’ll, however a reply is even higher. I’ll choose a random winner after entries shut at midnight Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Good luck to all.

(Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)



want the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its eleventh yr in March 2020. In 2016, the present gained three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Listen domestically within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the April 19, 2021 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

Comments are closed.