Flowers have been an important part of civilization from the beginning. They have been sprinkled over salads, worshipped for their beauty and cultivated wherever humans have lived. Although modern people understand the science behind flowers and the role they perform for the plant, blossoms are still draped over headstones or given to a loved one to symbolize powerful emotions. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, flowers are the stars of the earth.
Reproduction and Pollination
Flowers are the reproductive extensions of a plant. Flowers can either be male or female, and plants can have both sexes growing next to each other. Male flowers have a stamen that is coated with pollen. Hungry hummingbirds or insects fly from flower to flower and become coated with pollen. The pollen is eventually transported to a female flower by the pollinator; female flowers have pistil structures, which receive pollen and fertilize seeds. The seeds drop away from the flower when they are mature and a new plant may grow from the seed. Flowers use a variety of techniques to attract potential pollinators, including tasty nectar and color displays.
Throughout history, flowers have been associated with divine power. In ancient Greece and Rome, the goddesses Chloris and Flora were responsible for the beauty and protection of flowers. Lotus flowers figure prominently in Hindu mythology; meditation on the lotus is said to confer wisdom and peace. Flower blossoms also can take on symbolic meaning. Poppies have long been used to commemorate and honor the dead, and in some regions are worn by mourners during funerals.
Flowers can grow to tremendous sizes, smell like rotting meat or possess any other number of bizarre characteristics. The Titan Arum flower, commonly known as the corpse flower, exudes a strong smell of rotting meat and can grow up to 9 feet tall, making it one of the largest flower on Earth. Wolffia flowers are the smallest blossoms; they drift on still water and are invisible to the naked eye. The cereus flower only blooms at night and is prized for its exquisite beauty. Flowers can also take on negative connotations; the beautiful purple foxglove is poisonous and represents insincerity and falseness.
Flowers and Beauty
Flowers are prized around the world for their beauty, delicacy and colorful displays. Cherry blossoms coat cherry tree branches for only a few weeks every year and are celebrated in Japan and the United States for their subdued, fragile pinks. Blue bells are vibrantly blue and can cover huge stretches of forest floor. Hydrangea blossoms bunch up by the dozens, and normally grow in soft pinks, white or blues.
Some varieties of flowers are edible and can even be a delicious compliment to a dish. The sweet petals of the carnation are used to flavor tea and liqueurs and can be included in various desserts. Dandelions are also sweet and can be eaten raw or fermented with wine. Other flowers are dangerous to eat, triggering a variety of health problems. Oleander can cause heart palpitations, which may be deadly for certain people. Eating hydrangea blossoms causes vomiting, abdominal pain and weakness. Only flowers that are known to be edible should be eaten.
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