I was emailing a fellow Master Gardener this week, and she mentioned the difficulty some folks have identifying particular species due to mediocre blooms. Her comments were the inspiration for this column.
Some plants are so easy to identify. You can look at the flowers and tell what it is.
If you’re knowledgeable or have worked with plants for a long time, there are other context clues to help in their identification. Characteristics such as time of year, shade of green or other colors of leaves, the shapes of the leaves, height, smell, texture — all of these features enable us to know what species they are.
But we have to admit, the flower is the easiest physical characteristic working for the plant. And flower production is so important in the plants’ life cycles.
Showy flowers attract pollinators, and if fertilization occurs, the plant produces a fruit, vegetable and/or goes to seed. Without this process, the species wouldn’t continue to exist.
If a plant is fortunate enough to be a hibiscus, an esperanza, Turks cap, a Texas sage, an oxeye daisy, or any other plant with eye-catching blooms, pollinators flock to them and fertilization seems to be a surety.
But what about the flowers that don’t have impressive or dramatic blooms? How do they accomplish their life cycles and proliferate?
Pollination is not only crucial, but can be an interesting and even tricky process for some flowering plants.
For the purposes of this topic and brevity, I’ll only discuss cross-pollination which, in a nutshell, is when the pollen grains are transferred from the anthers of a flower to the stigmas of another flower in other plants of the same kind.
In the information above, we discussed pollinators moving from flower to flower to accomplish this. Although some plants with unimpressive flowers cannot attract pollinators, the process is still accomplished.
Wind is a major player in cross-pollination, as is the flower structures of the more modest blooms.
You see, plants that depend upon the movement of its pollen through the air will have more open and sticky reproductive parts in order to send and receive pollen blowing in the wind.
And the pollen grains themselves will be lighter so they blow easily, and greater in number to increase the chances of the pollen grains finding their target.
Finally, plants with unexceptional flowers can still be enjoyed and valued for features other than their flowers.
Foliage, texture, color, uses, shade capabilities, native species, deer resistance, good habitats for nature, and many more features can be used to identify and appreciate them.