Flowers (Science Experiments)
Pollen on the move
Self versus Cross: Will there be a difference in reproduction between self-pollinated and cross-pollinated plants of the same type?
Design Your Own Experiment
The word flower often conjures up images of familiar blooms that enliven homes, such as roses and sunflowers. Yet flowers do far more than beautify the world. A is the reproductive structure of flowering plants, which are called angiospermsA flowering plant that has its seeds produced within an ovary.. Flowering plants include the familiar blooms as well as grasses, shrubs, and trees. The flowers on plants are widely diverse in size, shape, color, and scent. Flower sizes range from the Wolffia, which can fit through the eye of a sewing needle, to the Titan Arum, a cone-shaped flower that can tower 9 feet (2.7 meters). Some flowers resemble insects, and others sport brightly colored petals. Yet all flowers share the same key function: to make seeds to give rise to a new generation of the plant.
The evolution of flowers supplied many advantages for plant survival and thus, life on Earth. Flowers provide...
(The entire section is 5100 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Flowers (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
FLOWERS. Throughout history, flowers, like seeds, leaves, and stems, have contributed to human cookery. But edible flowers, when added to food, provide more than sustenance and flavoring. They add form and color. They are an exception to the rule, a spark of interest, and a spectacle that cannot last. Whole fresh flowers connect people to food in a way that nothing else does. Just as beauty is associated with good in children's fairy tales, so too with food: flowers add to the pleasure of eating. Flowers have long been an essential link in the human food chain. The joining of flower pollen with flower ovules is a starting point in the cycle of life. More than we imagine, life depends on a sequence that starts with flowers and progresses to pollination, seeds, and plants. Without the rebirth of plants, without continuous replacement, life would cease to exist. To sustain life, there must be birth and growth.
Flowers are the blossoms of plants and the reproductive organs of angiosperms. Edible and nonedible flowers alike have a common concentric structure of distinct parts that, beginning at the base of the flower and proceeding up to the center, include the stem, ovary, sepal, petal, stamen (filament and anther), and pistil (style and stigma).
Pistils are the female flower part. When pollen grains light on pistils, they absorb moisture, grow tubes, penetrate ovaries, and, finally, connect to ovules to fertilize seeds. Flower nectaries, or nectar glands, secrete nectar, which is used by bees to form honey. Nectar glands are located at the base of the ovary and above the anther.
In Roman times rose petals were used to flavor cooked brains, sweet marjoram flowers were baked in hash, and safflower petals were used for a boiled sauce. Roses and violets were added to wine to enhance flavor.
Later, in the Middle Ages, rose petals were used to flavor cakes, creams, and confectionery. Both orange blossom and rose petal water are flavorings made from flowers. Since the third and fourth centuries C.E., rose water has been made by steeping petals and then distilling the water. Middle Eastern and Indian sweets such as shola, baklava, firni, and halvah are flavored with rose water. It is also used to flavor Middle Eastern beverages such as lassi and sherbet. Flower use varies from culture to culture and age to age. While in America today roses are used more as a decoration than a flavoring, dried rosebuds are used as a condiment in Asian cookery.
Symbolism and Healing
Flowers are a symbol of life and a source of birth and healing. For example, when placed on a wedding cake flowers signify new life, and at times of sickness and death they comfort the grieving. During the Easter season the passionflower is a symbol of the holy passion, the suffering of Jesus Christ. In ancient Greece the rose symbolized love, beauty, and happiness, and during the Roman era, roses were associated with Venus, the goddess of love.
Edible flowers are used with various foods to mark events such as graduation, marriage, and retirement. Christians associate flowers with Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Epiphany. States and nations have adopted flowers as emblems. For example, the emblem of the Netherlands is the edible tulip, and Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have adopted the violet as their state flower. Four stateseorgia, Iowa, New York, and North Dakotaave adopted roses. Florida adopted the orange blossom, and Hawaii the hibiscus.
But in addition to their symbolic and spiritual uses, flowers are consumed for their healing properties. Flowers from the great scarlet poppy contain alkaloids such as thebaine, which is a source of codeine. The unripe pods of opium poppies are used to make many alkaloids including morphine, thebaine, narcotine, and codeine. The list of flowers used as medicine is extensive, and it includes arnica used as an anti-inflammatory analgesic and hawthorn used as an antispasmodic, cardiac, and vasodilator. The marsh mallow is a diuretic, antitussive, and demulcent. Passionflowers are a sedative. Rosemary is used as a tonic, diaphoretic, antiseptic, and astringent. And finally, due to their astringent qualities, some flowers, including nasturtiums, roses, and yarrow, are used as bath oils.
Preparation and Consumption
While flowers are often used fresh, they are also preserved for later use when they are stored dried, freeze-dried, candied, crystallized, or even frozen in ice cubes.
Flowers or flower parts are eaten as sweeteners, vegetables, flavorings, beverages, and garnishes. In terms of quantity, the most widely used flower today is the hop, a conelike flower or strobilus that is dried and used to flavor beer and ale and is also an antimicrobial agent. Squash blossoms are served stuffed, fried, or deep-fried. The great variety of flower foods is typified in honey, a sweetener made by bees from flower nectar. Cauliflower, broccoli, and pickled capers are flower buds. Pansy and lilac flowers are crystallized and then used for cake, cookie, and pastry decorations. Lavender, chamomile, lilac, and jasmine flowers are used to make herbal teas. Hibiscus flowers are boiled and sweetened to become agua de jamaica or jamaica water, a Mexican beverage made like tea, but served like iced tea or fruit juice. Violets, mimosa, and forget-me-nots are used to flavor confectionery.
Today, out-of-season blossoms, as well as dried flowers and flowers made of marzipan and frosting, are common on wedding and birthday cakes. Flowers are stored and shipped fresh, pressed, dried, and crystallized. Some institutions even use flowers of plastic, silk, paper, wood shavings, and wire to decorate food. This pursuit of flowers is epitomized by upscale restaurant chefs who order a box of mixed fresh flowers, and then use them indiscriminately, either whole or in parts, as the finishing touch to elegantly served dishes from medallions of venison to creamy custards with Grand Marnier.
The stigmata of the fall-blooming saffron crocus provide an essential spice for the bouillabaisse of southern France, the paella of Spain, the risotto of Italy, and the pilaf and biriani of India. Saffron, which is native to Asia Minor, adds an orange-yellow color to these dishes and gives them a spicy, pungent, and bitter flavor. Today, some of the finest saffron is produced in Spain. Saffron is costly because it must be handpicked; it takes four thousand stigmata to yield one ounce of powdered saffron.
The use of edible flowers as food also raises a number of concerns. First, culinary flowers must be free from insecticides and herbicides. In one sense, assuring toxin-free flowers is easy because fresh flower buds and flowers grow quickly. On some plants it takes only a few days for new buds and flowers to form. On the other hand, commercial flowers are often sprayed to keep them pest-free and visually attractive.
But of even greater concern than pesticides is the loss of historical species. As a result of evolution and environmental degradation, there has been a loss of species and genetic diversity. This, however, is somewhat offset by natural evolution and, in the case of flowers, the constant breeding of new and more beautiful varieties. A third problem is the use of personal or regional nomenclature that makes it difficult to trace the use of flowers in history. Cultures from Native Americans to tribal Africans have celebrated food with flowers, but these traditions are largely lost.
See also Herbs and Spices; Presentation of Food; Weddings.
Kowalchik, Claire, and William H. Hylton. Rodale's IllustratedEncyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1987.
Morse, Kitty. Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion with Recipes. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1995.
Sohn, Mark F. "From Anise Hyssop to Zucchini: Edible Flowers From Home Gardens." Appalachian News-Express, July 23, 1997.
Sohn, Mark F. Southern Country Cooking. Iowa City: Penfield Press, 1992.
Sohn, Mark F. Mountain Country Cooking: A Gathering of the BestRecipes from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.
Weaver, William Woys. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. NewYork: Henry Holt, 1997.
Mark F. Sohn