Flowers with only three petals are a rare but special treat in nature. Close study of flowers reveals that both petals and sepals, which are petal-shaped and protect buds, surround the tender pollinating center of a flower. Understanding the parts of a flower helps to identify petals from sepals and, in some cases, reveal a tri-petal flower that only appears to have more.
Commelina communis, a bright blue flowering invasive weed, has two larger petals over one smaller, lighter blue petal below. This dayflower is a prolific ground cover, often disturbing crops and wreaking havoc in lawns and gardens. The foliage is common-looking and drab until the flowers pop out like little blue eyes all over the ground.
The bulbs of Calochortus venustus, a variety of this bright spotted lily, were enjoyed as a food staple by Native Americans. The mariposa lily displays three furled petals in colors of white, yellow and a purple to deep red. The C. venustus variety has a dark petal spot at the base, with sometimes a second, lighter spot just above. The spots create a pleasing symmetry on this beautiful flower.
Known as the painted lady or striped wake-robin, this pointy petaled charmer sports three, spear-like petals with three distinct green sepals between each one. The trillium grows on a rhizome, or tuberous connective roots that sprout flowers up from the root line. Producing undulating, white petals with dark pink markings rimming the base of each petal, the trillium loves woodlands and grows best near the stumps of decaying pine trees.
Iris missouriensis, which grows in the western part of the United States, is also known as the blue flag iris. At first glance, this bloom appears to have a multitude of bright blue, lavender or, rarely, white petals. However, there are only three true petals, which reach upward, and three sepals that spread down. The iris is very showy, with gracefully wavy, sheer petals masking a furry tuft of yellow or orange striping the center of the sepals.
The daffodil, a common spring bulb bloomer, has a ring of petal-like skirts around a center known as the corona. At close inspection, the daffodil actually has a perianth, or group of three petals and three sepals of the same color, surrounding the corona. Daffodils have been grown in glorious numbers of hybrids, creating beautiful and complex combinations of blooms in variations of orange, salmon, yellow and white.
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