En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
6 ratings

Saturday - August 23, 2008

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


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?


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

Is Bushy Knotweed carcinogenic from West Grove PA
September 06, 2012 - Is the invasive Bushy Knotweed / PORA3 / Polygonum ramosissimum toxic to the extent that the spores are carcinogenic?
view the full question and answer

How is native range changed in the scientific record?
March 28, 2011 - I am accessioning Pachysandra procumbens for the Baker Arboretum. These plants were made from cuttings of a native stand here in Warren County (Western KY). How does the record get amended to...
view the full question and answer

Taxonomy question concerning the Family Commelinaceae
June 17, 2014 - Hi I have a question. Many people refer to plants differently, I have always used the Genus and species and rarely the family name..it is very confusing .. when a professional uses a name that is a co...
view the full question and answer

Information about Erigeron annuus and Erigeron philadelphicus
January 10, 2015 - Hi! I am looking for information about the specific leaf area of Erigeron annuus and Erigeron philadelphicus. Do you know of anyone who is working with any these species, who might be able to provide...
view the full question and answer

Do bees visit cedar trees and other conifers for pollen?
November 30, 2013 - I was wondering if honey bees or native bees visit cedar trees for pollen? and what about other conifers?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center