Zinnia, a composite "flower" composed of other flowersTHE EASY ANSWER:

We humans simply like bright colors, weird shapes, elegant designs, and cleverness. Once we learn the basics of flower structure and design, our minds get pulled into the perfumy little worlds inside of blossoms, and the colorfulness, strangeness, elegance, and cleverness of structure and design we find there simply bowls us over.

In fact, once we start glimpsing patterns and relationships among blossoms, and begin understanding how knowing them opens up such vast potential (everything from eating wild herbs to discovering extremely rare wildflowers that should be protected), it's a real buzz.


Another good reason to bother with blossoms is that blossoms are important for anyone wanting to do anything with plants at more than a superficial level. This results from two facts of life:

Therefore, if you want to experiment with wild edible herbs, or wild medicinal herbs, or wild plants from which natural dyes, glues, organic insecticides, perfume ingredients, or leather tanning agents can be derived, or if you want to name all the trees, bushes, vines, wildflowers, grasses, sedges, or reeds that grow in your neighborhood -- or anyplace in the whole wide world -- you absolutely must be able to identify your plant with certainty, and that means that you must understand blossoms.

Since an oak tree looks profoundly different from a water lily, the question arises as to why it's not reasonable to learn to simply look at a plant and recognize it without dealing with the form and structure of its blossoms.

Well, that approach works to a certain extent, but you can get only so far with it, and that's not far enough for our purposes.


Let's say that the naturalist at your local park shows you a pretty plant called the Jerusalem Artichoke. You learn that it's common along roadsides and railroad tracks and that the Indians used to boil its potato-like tubers as an important food. You see that the Jerusalem Artichoke before you is about seven feet tall, and has several sunflower-like "blossoms," each with many bright yellow "petals" radiating from the center. You leave the park thinking that now you know the Jerusalem Artichoke.

So, one day you want to show a Girl Scout troop what wonderful tubers the Jerusalem Artichoke has. You dig up a plant looking the right way, but there are no tubers. The problem is that also growing in your area there are the Rough Sunflower, the Pale-leafed Wood Sunflower, the Saw-toothed Sunflower, the Giant Sunflower, and several other sunflower species, all growing to seven feet, all with yellow "petals" radiating from the "blossom" centers, but these species seldom or never produce edible tubers.

In other words, the plant world is organized in such a way that sometimes plants are so unique in their appearance that you'll never misidentify them, even when they have no blossoms. However, more frequently, plants have look- alike relatives that may or may not possess the qualities in which you're interested.

You want to do something with a certain kind of wildflower called goldenrod? Just in the southeastern U.S. there are over fifty different species of wild goldenrod, so which one are you looking for? And there are even more than that of asters! You want to bake acorn bread from the flour of White Oak acorns? In North America, there are over sixty oak species, so I hope you're sure which one is the White Oak!

But, don't despair...

By poking our noses into these plants' flowers, we can figure out for ourselves what's what! A plant's leaves and stems may look exactly like the leaves and stems of other species, but its flowers will always be at least a little different from the flowers of every other species!