Imagine a world without flowers. The world once existed without flowers. A world without flowers would be a world without pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds or honeybees. Ninety percent of flowering plants and forty percent of our food crops depend on pollinators.
This is meant to be a celebration of beauty and will include a celebration of flowering plants with examples from our yard, and the roadside. Bear with me for a moment while we think about our world without flowers.
Life Before Flowers
Warning: If discussion of Evolution as fact bothers you, you will want to go read something else.
Prior to flowering plants, land based plants consisted of ferns and a large group of plants known to botanists as gymnosperms. Most gymnosperms are the very familiar conifers: pines, firs, spruce, cypress and redwoods, but there are a few others.
Ginkgo biloba, which is the sole member of a very primitive gymnosperm group, is well known because of its supposed salutary effects on brain function and the fact that the male plant is cultivated and sold as a landscaping tree. It seems that nothing comes without some price. The fruit of the female Ginkgo apparently smells like something the dog left that you stepped in, so only male Ginkos are produced commercially.
Characteristic bilobed Ginkgo leaf
Cycads which look like palms and produce a single cone in the center of the fronds are less common or well-known than conifers or Ginkgo.
Ferns are limited to moist areas because of a lack of a protective coat on the reproductive elements to prevent drying. Cones solved that problem. Ferns and conifers depend on wind to spread pollen, which contains the male nuclei, to the female nuclei which are bare on the ferns and exist in a cone in the case of conifers.
Spruce Cone Conifer Needles
The difference in flowering and non-flowering plants is greater than the simple fact that flowering plants depend largely on pollinators. The other details, though, are more technical and explaining them would remind you of Botany 104, so let’s move on.
The non-flowering plants were the only game in town until early in the cretaceous period when flowering plants appeared some 100 million years ago. The appearance of flowering plants was not Darwin’s conundrum; it was the rapid ascendency of flowering plants and the creatures that pollinated them. This sudden rise was contrary to Darwin’s hypothesis that evolution occurred slowly.
Darwin, in a letter dated 22 July 1879 to Joseph Hooker, described the rise of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery.” In 2009, ecologists at Wegeningen University, Frank Berendse and Marten Scheffer, in an article in Ecology Letters, reported that they had developed an explanation of Darwin’s mystery. Non-flowering plants produce litter that decomposes very slowly and consequently the soil becomes impoverished and a poor place for young plants to grow. The litter from flowering plants rapidly decomposes and allows their seeds to have a fertile place to reproduce. Imagine that it could be that simple. Sometimes we get so mesmerized by the flowers that we forget to look at the ground.
The beauty of the scientific method is that “truth” continues to be defined and refined by observation.
The Joy of Flowers
This is an in between time where we live. The great show of early spring is almost over. We have something like a four season yard. Actually, there are periods when not much is blooming. Some of the Camellias bloom in January and early February. If the nighttime temperatures get below 10 F (-12 C) for an extended period these Camellia buds don’t open or open partially. This was a mild winter and the flowers were more showy than usual.
In February and early March the white blooms of a deciduous dogwood and the yellow of forsythia provide inspiration. And then the great show starts. First come the azaleas:
And then the cultivated rhododendrons:
Native Rhododendrons Come Later
And in the good years the mountain laurel blooms:
The native rhododendrons are less showy and more particular than the cultivated, but enjoyed just as much.
The azalea cultivars are timed to provide color before and after the rhododendrons.
In this nether time the oak leaf hydrangeas have been putting on blooms and are just beginning to open:
Familiar Blue or Pink Hydrangeas reflect soil pH. Blue predominates here.
The hydrangeas will be with us through the summer along with the composites like daisies and many of those wonderful little wildflowers along the road:
Day liies are blooming now and will be here through early summer:
Flowers are not the only colorful sights that bring joy. Following are a couple of spectacular sunsets.
Arizona High Desert Sunset - The Sky is on Fire.
Evening at Friends' Home in North Carolina.
Except for the photos of the cone, conifer needles and ginkgo leaf, the photos are all mine. The others were provided as free photos by Google. Images.