Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's a bloom in the garden?


In the haste of growing food I think that we all forget the flowers these plants produce. Flowers are an interesting adaptation that occurred approximately 150 million years ago. It thought by most evolutionary biologists that bees co-evolved with flowers, hence their codependent nature. However bees were not the only animals to be affected by the presence of flowers. Many other insects and birds would also take on the role as pollinators. Many other animals came to enjoy eating the fruit that was produced by these plants. Of course without the flowering plant, human civilization or humans at all would not exist.

Vegetable garden flowers come in many distinct and different forms, but they typically share four basic parts; petals, pistil, stamen, and sepals. It is the variation in these four basic parts that give flowers their true appeal and help scientist to classify these plants. The flowers of vegetables should not be overlooked, they are neither dull nor lack luster. They are emboldened in their own way and present us with a bit of early summer beauty.

Look at the two pictures below:



As you can tell the nightshade and the potato flowers have very similar shapes. These two plants are very closely related and would make one think that they have other characteristics that are similar and they do. They have similar leaf structures as well. However one important difference is that potatoes lack all the poisonous aspects that nightshade carries. The same holds true for tomatoes which are also in the nightshade family. Yet both of these plants' flowers are quite attractive and lovely. The potato flower was used for many decades in France as an adornment in the hair of rich ladies.

However with potato plants the flower is only a signal to the gardener that the plant is going to start producing under the soil. Yet with other plants the signal is quite different. Sometimes the flower signals the end of the harvest for certain plants such as with greens (lettuce, spinach, etc.). In this instance we say that the plant has bolted or gone to seed. When these types of plants flower the plant begins to produce a chemical that turns the plant almost inedible or at least bad tasting. This is an evolutionary trait that allows this plant to ensure that its flowers will be producing seeds and that no animal will interrupt this process by eating it.

Sometimes immature flower heads are acutally the harvest, as in the case of broccoli and cauliflower. Other times flowers signal the coming of a food. These types of "vegetables" are almost always a fruit as in the case of tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and raspberries. The first sign of their showy display is the beginning of the end. I find myself going out to the garden watching, waiting for the delicious fruits that are surely on their way. Currently the "fruit" that is in season are strawberries. Each morning I go out and gather all the strawberries that have rippened over night and mentally mark the ones that will soon be ripe enough to pick. Soon peas will visit our garden and then we will entire the time of the cucumbers. Who fruit so readily that we will pick 3-4 a day for quite some time. We will pass them out deal them to our friends.

However, please remember to not forget the importance of your vegetables flowers and to remember to stop every once and a while and admire the simple elegance of the flowers in your garden.





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