THIS IS NOT A FLOWER.

Daisies are not flowers. Neither are Dandelions, Thistles, Marigolds, Sunflowers, Dahlias and a whole host of other well-known plants with the archetypal ‘flower’ structure, as illustrated here with a glorious paint job by yours truly.

Image

No, my friends, I am sorry to have to break it to you that these delightful little chappies, many of them in the Asteraceae, are not, in fact, flowers. No, they are inflorescences.

This basically means that each thing that looks like a flower is actually MANY TINY FLOWERS, all huddled together.

If you dissect a Daisy (go on, you know you want to) and get your hand lens on it (you should have one of these. If you don’t, go out and buy one immediately) you will see that each small yellow blob in the middle of the flower is a little tube with 5 lobes, kind of resembling some bigger flowers, like Campanulas. These tubes have pretty much the standard ‘flower’ structure: they consist of a female bit in the middle, surrounded by male bits which produce pollen, surrounded by petals (in this case, largely fused into a tube). There are lots of them all crammed together to make the middle bit of the Daisy.

The outer bits of the Daisy, the big white flaps which look like petals are, you’ll be pleased to know, petals. But each one comes from a DIFFERENT FLOWER. Yes, around the edge of the yellow blobby bit, there are what botanists like to call ‘ray florets’ (as opposed to the yellow ‘disc florets’ of the middle). These ray florets are asymmetrical flowers with one massive petal, sticking out and contributing to the overall deceitful effect of one big flower. The more ray florets a daisy-like inflorescence has, the scruffier/fluffier/fuller it will appear, hence Dandelions.

Here’s a picture illustrating that.

LOOK A FLOW- WAIT, NO, INFLORESCENCE.

Ray florets vs Disc florets

So there you go. Next time you see anyone making a daisy chain, you can gleefully run up to them and inform them that ‘DAISIES AREN’T REAL FLOWERS’ before disappearing behind a tree. You don’t have to put it in context. You can just feel smug.

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About adelecmj

I'm a PhD student at the Open University, where I study pollen-vegetation relationships in Ghana. I like plants, rocks, and science in general.
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One Response to THIS IS NOT A FLOWER.

  1. Vohn says:

    It blew my mind when I first learnt this in Beginning Botany (also at RBGE).

    A few months later I was tasked with sorting out my childhood boxes at my parent’s house. Imagine my surprise to find in my primary 7 jotter a full diagram of a daisy, complete with explanation of disc florets and ray florets. Had it not been in my own handwriting, I wouldn’t have believed it. Obviously my 10-year old self had just accepted the facts and was unmoved by them, so unmoved as to promptly forget them. Whereas my 30-year old self had been stunned, so stunned as to tell everyone who would listen, so stunned as to go around collecting daisies and pulling them apart to prove the point to any doubters!

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