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?

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
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
5 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

Smarty Plants on forbs
October 16, 2005 - What kind of plant is a forb? I see the term used frequently in reference to grasses (I think), but I can't figure out exactly what a forb is.
view the full question and answer

Do plants grow faster in natural or artificial light?
March 13, 2009 - Do you think plants will grow faster in natural light or artificial light or a combination of both? And why do you think that. and need your answer for my biology project please and thank you for your...
view the full question and answer

Differences in prostrate Mimosa species
May 27, 2013 - There are apparently a lot of little pink puffy-flowered prostrate plants with thorny stems and sensitive leaves: Mimosa microphylla, Mimosa roemeriana, Mimosa strigillosa. How does one tell them apar...
view the full question and answer

Clarification for botanical (Latin) names for Herbertia
June 17, 2010 - I am looking for a clarification of scientific names. In the classic wildflower book 'Wildflowers of Texas' the author, Geyata Ajilvsgi, attributes the plant Herbertia with the name Alophia drummon...
view the full question and answer

Question about male muscadine plants
June 01, 2012 - I have 9 muscadine plants, 3 females and 6 perfect flowered growing in my yard. A plant started growing under my porch lst year and it grew through the spaces between the boards. It grew nicely. It fl...
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center