Moment of Science: Flowers

“I named all my children after flowers. There’s Lillie and Rose and my son, Artificial.” —Bert Williams
MOMENT OF SCIENCE: April showers have brought May flowers! Here's a look at the science behind some of your favorite varieties, just in time for Mother's Day.
Published: May. 4, 2022 at 12:07 AM EDT
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Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The Earth laughs in flowers.” This week, we’re getting our hands dirty and exploring the science behind nature’s most colorful fireworks in full bloom!

*Flowers haven’t always been around, of course. Plenty of dinosaurs like velociraptors and the T-rex actually predate flowers, which first appeared “only” 140 million years ago. Nowadays, they adorn everything from our gardens, our doors, even our pets... if they’re patient enough.

*The flower itself has male and female parts: the stamen and pistil, respectively. Anthers are part of the stamen and carry the pollen... if you need help finding them, it helps that they’re usually yellow. You can also probably guess that the ovary contains the seeds that turn into the fruit we eat, depending on the type. The petals are always the big showstoppers, but the “sepals” are those small green parts at the base, which help protect the bud as it develops.

*In our photosynthesis episode, we talked about how most of the chlorophyll for flowers lies in their stems and leaves... i.e. the green bits. Flower color depends largely on their DNA, though certain patterns can be hybridized and crossbred. Good thing, too... it’s estimated nearly 600 species have gone extinct since just before the Industrial Revolution began.

*Sunflowers are native to the Americas, and their heads do their best to seize the day, turning to face the sun as it travels east to west (“heliotropism”).

*Hydrangeas aren’t perhaps as iconic, but can be a fascinating litmus test... less acidic soil gives you pink hydrangeas, and more acidic soil gives you blue.

*Here’s one you definitely don’t want to smell... the Titan Arum blooms only about once a decade, but it’s called the “corpse flower” for a reason. If you’ve ever wanted your garden to smell like rotting flesh, now’s your chance.

*For a breath of fresh air, state flowers really showcase the variety... from scarlet carnations in Ohio, to Forget-Me-Nots in Texas... to the mighty Maine white pinecone. (Okay, that one’s been called a “floral emblem” since it’s not actually a flower, but still...)

*Broccoli and cauliflower also count as edible flowers -- it’s right there in the name for one of them -- and while we often see dandelions as pesky weeds on the lawn, they’re a good source of vitamins and nutrients and can even go well in some salads.

Pack your patience and some good gardening knowledge, and see what your green thumbs can achieve this planting season.

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