What Is A Flowering Plant?

Basic Botany For Gardeners…

Have you taken a good look at the design of the Space Shuttle? It is a miracle of engineering; each piece is there for a purpose, nothing may be left off, nothing non-functional added.
When the shuttle was built, this machine, was designed with sheer function in mind, but has a grim beauty about it. And so with a flowering plant; they have evolved, undergone structural changes to meet changing environments, altered their biochemical systems, and are still strictly functional.

So functional, in fact, are plants that scientists can come nowhere near making one. Parenthetically, however, we must tip our hats to the hybridizers who give short shrift to nature’s streamlining as they enlarge blossoms, brighten colors, and increase the numbers of petals.

flowering plant diagram

What is a flowering plant, exactly?

Well, it is a thing with a flower on one end, a root on the other and some stems and leaves in between.

Which part is most important?

From the gardener’s standpoint, probably the blossom. From the cow’s standpoint, the leafy parts. To mother nature it is the seeds from the male pollen and female flower parts that will produce seeds, assuring more of the same variety and family of plants will be around next year, so that the meadow will remain in balance.

We can see, too, that a flowering plant is arranged on a longitudinal axis, sometimes branched, but with roots at the lower end, stems supporting the foliage, and flowers at the upper. It is this axis that we wish to consider.

Seed Germination

When a seed germinates first a root appears, then a shoot, to become the stem and leaves, and much later the blossoms.

Why is the root first?

Remember, this is a living thing, taking in oxygen to use in changing carbohydrates to energy for growth, and giving off carbon dioxide (just as people do). The main thing that seedlings must obtain from its environment is water, since new cells are being rapidly made and their tissues are largely water. The root goes to work gathering water from the very beginning.

As the seedling grows of flowering plants, it uses the food stored in the seed and getting water and minerals from the soil by means of its root, it breaks out of the ground, and a shift in nutrition occurs.

As the young plant reaches light it turns green. This is because it develops a green pigment, chlorophyll, within its cells. Now the plant can perform a function that is unique to the plant kingdom. It can make its own food.

Have you ever thought where your energy comes from?

We eat plants, or plant products or animals. Those animals were pastured, or fed corn or hay, so eventually we come back to plants as a source of all of our food energy.

As for heat or light – that, too, probably comes from coal, petroleum or methane gas, underground deposits of organic chemicals that started with plants long ago. Only hydroelectric and nuclear power or solar cells can supply us with energy that does not involve plants. Great for the solar garden lights in our landscape.

Photosynthesis – Plants Unique Function

This unique function of plants is photosynthesis, a topic for a later chapter, but important to us now in talking about the longitudinal axis of this plant we are growing.

So our young flowering plant unfolds. An active, microscopic cluster of cells at the tip of each root produces more root cells, so the roots grow forward, reaching deeper to new sources of food and water.

At the stem end there is a similar clump of cells, always dividing, so that the plant grows from the tip upward. It is amazing how many people believe that a mark placed on a tree ten feet up will be much higher 20 years later. Plants do not grow that way. They grow from both ends.

As the stem end moves forward, it leaves behind tiny leaves that soon fill up with water and expand to full sized foliage. Within these leaves, which are really made like a photocell with a lot of flat surface exposed to light, there is more chlorophyll.

An ever increasing amount of photosynthesis takes place. Photosynthesis (foto-SIN-the-sis) is the name given to a complex process by which a plant can make sugar out of carbon dioxide and water, using energy from sunlight. Much of the energy used by man comes from this source.

We are able now to enlarge upon our theme of what a flowering plant really is.

It is a system of complex parts, each dependent on the others, but, taken as a whole, it is autotrophic. That is, it can manufacture its own food.

The root system is responsible for water and mineral uptake, physical support of the upper parts and sometimes storage of food. The shoot, including everything above ground, consists of stem (chiefly a pipeline carrying water and minerals up and foods down), leaves (at work in photosynthetic activities), and the blossoms, destined to produce the seeds that will keep the species alive.

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