Man has always been fascinated by flowers. The fossil record shows that Neanderthals used flowers in burial rites. During the Middle Ages, flowers were used in politics and ritual. The Victorian era placed high value on them, with the wearing of flowers equated with being well-dressed. Folklore is also filled with stories and remedies of flowers--from curing colds to soothing a broken heart.
- Flowering plants or angiosperms are a widely diverse group of plants, with over 250,000 species worldwide. They appeared relatively recent in the geological history and quickly evolved and spread. Today, flowers can be found in most any ecosystem on the planet, providing the basis for wildlife distribution and diversity.
- Flowering plants have four basic structures: petals, sepals, stamens and carpels. The carpels form the female reproductive part of the flower, sometimes merged into a single unit called the pistil. The male portion of the flower is contained within the stamen. The variations on these four parts is what makes flowers such a diverse group.
- Flowers of a given habitat have evolved to withstand the environmental stresses it must endure. Because of the diversity of habitats, there is wide diversity in flowers. For example, the unusual shape of the pitcher plant with its tube-like shape serves the purpose of trapping insects in its peat bog habitat. The orchid family also provides some unusual and often stunning flowers within its approximately 20,000 species. In the race to attract pollinators, flowers have evolved to capture any niche that gives them a competitive edge.
- The purpose of the flower is to reproduce seed. Reproduction requires a means of pollination for most flowers. Environmental agents such as wind and water can move pollen plant to plant. Bees, naturally, are an important pollinator. Other insects also play that role. Flies, for example, are attracted to the strong scent of wild ginger and act as pollinators. Animals such as birds and bats fulfill that function as well. Accidental pollination can occur from wildlife and even people.
- Flowers, through reproduction, provide seeds and food, which is perhaps their most important function. Some flowers, such as mullein with its anti-inflammatory properties, have medicinal uses. Flowers have other non-tangible benefits. A 2001 Rutgers study linked the presence of flowers with a decrease in depression in seniors. Increases in productivity in the workplace have also been demonstrated by the presence of flowers.