En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
7 ratings

Saturday - August 23, 2008

From: Baltimore, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: General Botany
Title: Simple flowers vs. compound flowers
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Please, give the characteristics of a "simple flower" as distinct from a compound flower which has rays and "disk flowers". What type of flower is the flower of a chive,which seems to be composed of little tiny individual flowers?

ANSWER:

According to Thomas Elpel in "Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification":

"Simple or "primitive" flowers usually have numerous sepals, petals, stamens and pistils, while more advanced flowers typically have reduced numbers of each, and the parts are often fused together."

The "standard blossom" has a calyx made up of sepals that surround the corolla which is made up of the petals that surround the male parts (stamen consisting of the filament and anther) and the female parts (pistil consisting of the stigma, style and ovary).

Elpel gives buttercups (Family Ranunculaceae) as examples of simple dicot flowers and arrowheads (Family Alismatceae) as example of simple monocot flowers. His examples of advanced flowers are orchids (Family Orchidaceae) for the monocots and asters (Family Asteraceae) for the dicots.

At first glance, a compound or composite flower like the aster would appear to be a simple flower, but they are not. For one thing their sepals are really bracts, modified leaves, and often are layered. Their "petals" are in fact individual flowers (ray flowers) which also have stamens and pistils and their heads (disk flowers) are made up of many tiny individual flowers, each of which produce their own seeds. Just to confuse things, some composite flowers have only the ray flowers (e.g., dandelions) and some have only disk flowers (e.g., thistles), but most have both (e.g., sunflowers, daisies, zinnias).

According to the Flora of North America the flowers of chive (Allium schoenoprasum) is an umbel. Here is the definition of 'umbel' from Plant Identification Terminology: An illustrated Glossary by James G. and Melinda W. Harris:

"A flat-topped or convex inflorescence with the pedicels arising more or less from a common point, like the struts of an umbrella; a highly condensed raceme."

Another flower that is an umbel is the closely-related Allium drummondii (Drummond's onion).


Ranunculus hispidus var. nitidus

Sagittaria latifolia

Cypripedium reginae

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Taraxacum officinale

Cirsium texanum

Helianthus annuus

Melampodium leucanthum

Zinnia grandiflora

Allium drummondii

 

 

More General Botany Questions

Endemic plants for the Edwards Plateau
March 23, 2008 - Thanks so much for the info. it will be very helpful with the boys and we really stress "Leave No Trace Behind". The pictures will be enough. Thanks again!!
view the full question and answer

USDA Hardiness Zone of Rancho Bernardo, CA
October 01, 2009 - What plant zone is Poway, Rancho Bernardo CA?
view the full question and answer

Water-saving strategies of drought-tolerant plants
April 04, 2014 - Although "drought tolerant" plants are fairly well documented, it's clear that many different strategies are responsible, such as a huge root system (like Mesquite). I'm interested in learning the...
view the full question and answer

Possible reasons for yellow heads for Indian Blanket
December 13, 2005 - I had Indian Blanket flowers that had almost pure yellow heads. Will the seeds of these flowers produce plants that will have yellow flowers?
view the full question and answer

Project on natives in Connecticut from Chino CA
April 13, 2010 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, My 10 yr. old daughter is doing a project on Ct., and would like to know what the most common plants, trees and flowers are found in this state. A few of each would be a great ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center