Learning Through Science - Flowers

by Mary Beth Lott

    A sure sign that winter is gone and that spring and summer are on their way is flowers.  Who doesn’t enjoy the beautiful colors and fragrances of flowers?  However, flowers serve useful purposes, also.

What is the purpose of a flower?
    Flowers are the reproductive part of plants.  It is the flower that produces seeds which then grow into new plants.  So the first function of flowers is to help reproduce new plants.
    To reproduce a new plant, pollen from one flower must be carried to another flower.  Each flower has a specific design which best encourages the transfer of its pollen. Some kinds of flowers attract and use insects, bats, birds or other animals to transfer pollen from one flower to the next. These flowers tend to be brightly colored or have other special features that attract the insects and animals. Other kinds of flowers use the wind to move pollen from one flower to another.  These plants, such as grasses and many trees, don’t need fancy flowers to attract animals. So their flowers are often small and without much color. 

Have you ever eaten a flower?
    Flowers usually smell and look good, but how do they taste?  Some flowers can be used for food and drink.  Broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes are flower vegetables.  Many spices and herbal teas come from flowers.  Some flowers such as squash blossoms can be eaten fried or added fresh to salads.

Flowers can be weird!
    Flowers come in the widest variety of colors imaginable and in a wide variety of sizes, too.  The wolffia angusta is the world’s smallest flower. If you take the “o” out of “flower,” you can put two wolffia angusta plants inside the “o.”  A dozen of these dainty flowers can sit on the head of a pin with no trouble. 
    At the other extreme is the rafflesia arnoldii.  This giant produces the largest individual flower on earth. You’ll have to travel to the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in the Indonesia Archipelago to catch a glimpse of it.  The bud takes many months to develop and bloom into a flower.  Once Rafflesia arnoldii blossoms, it shouldn’t be hard to spot.  This flower can grow to a diameter of nearly a meter and can weigh up to 11 kilograms.  It has a fleshy color with reddish spots.  No one will seek rafflesia arnoldii for its fragrance.  It smells terrible! And it has a few other odd characteristics, as well.  There is a hole in the center of the blossom that holds about six liters of water, and the plant has no leaves, stems, or roots.

Rafflesia arnoldii flower
Fun Fact: After the long wait for this enormous stinky blossom to appear, 
you’ll have to look quickly.  The flower lasts for only a few days. 

Comprehension Questions: 
  1. What are two useful purposes of flowers?
  2. What are three ways that pollen can be moved from flower to flower?
  3. Why do all flowers have their own special design?
  4. Where can we see the world’s largest individual flower?
  5. What are three things rafflesia arnoldii doesn’t have?
Deeper Thought Questions:
  1. The word “purpose” is very important in our discussion of flowers.  Flowers have useful purposes.  Their colors and scents serve a purpose in pollination. Choose two other things from nature and discuss their purpose.
  2. What is your purpose here on this earth?
Something to do:
  1. TPR Time.  Pick a beautiful bouquet.  Inhale deeply to smell a flower’s pleasing fragrance.  Wrinkle your nose at the smell of a rafflesia arnoldii! 
  2. Draw a flower garden with lots of exotic blooms and pretty colors.  Find a partner, but don’t show your picture to your partner.  Describe your picture to your partner while your partner tries to recreate your picture.  Use flower vocabulary such as petals, center, stem, and leaves, and use color and shape words. 
  3. Collect some boxes, cardboard cartons, and other scrap material.  Have a team competition to build a new and exotic flower.  Each team member must be able to say something about the newly created flower such as how it will be pollinated, where it grows, and what its unusual characteristics are.
Answers to Comprehension Questions:
1. Flowers help plants to reproduce, and flowers can be food and drink.
2. Insects, bats, birds, other animals, and the wind
3. Flowers have their own specific design to help pollen move from plant to plant.
4. Sumatra and Borneo in the Indonesia Archipelago
5. leaves, stem and roots

fragrance- good smell
reproduce- to make a new one of the same kind
pollen- powder-like substance that the flower uses in reproduction
weird- strange
blossom- flower
bloom (noun)- flower
bloom (verb)- to make a flower
dainty- small and delicate
archipelago- a group of islands
bud- the beginning of a flower or leaf
stinky- smells bad
exotic-  very unusual

  1. Wikipedia
  2. http://www.parasiticplants.siu.edu/Rafflesiaceae/Raff.arn.page.html