OTHER STRANGE THINGS
FLOWERS DO

Green bean flowers & fruits

The above image shows a sprig snipped from a green-bean vine in my garden. You can see the three leaflets of the vine's trifoliate leaves as well as three flowers (one of them is unconnected because I placed it there so you could see a different view of this bean-family-plant's papilionaceous flowers). If you look closely also you can see three tiny, immature green beans forming, on the picture's right side. The crinkled brown thing at the bottom of the lowest baby green bean is a faded flower being discarded because it's no longer of use to the plant, pollination having succeeded and now the growing green bean is pushing it off and it's almost ready to drop to the ground.

Have you noticed yet that the top blossom in the picture is more or less yellow, while the two bottom flowers are pure white? There's not much difference between them, but there is a difference, and if you were a visiting bee seeing the flowers with a bee's eyes, which see ultraviolet light, you might see a lot of difference -- the yellowish flower appearing much less bright than the white ones.

Why would a plant make one flower less noticeable to visiting pollinators than other flowers? In the green bean's case, it seems to be because once the flower is pollinated the green bean plant doesn't "want" to waste its pollinators' time by encouraging them to visit flowers that are already pollinated. The flower is pollinated, quickly turns yellowish, and becomes less likely to be visited by pollinators, causing flowers needing to be pollinated to have a greater chance for pollination. Pretty neat, huh?

There are over 450 families of flowering plants, the number depending on who is counting them. Whatever the number, every family has something special about it, something setting it apart from all other families. To understand many of the differences you need to know what typical flowers look like, as represented by our Standard Blossom.

White-oak catkins For example, there's an excellent chance that right in your backyard, or along a nearby street or road, there's a member of the Oak Family, which contains beech, oak, and chestnut trees. One such member, an oak, is pictured at the left, flowering in early spring as its leaves just unfurl from buds. Flowers in the beech family are weird because each tree has its male parts in one kind of flower, and its female parts in another, and the two kinds of flowers occur on the same tree, and neither male nor female blossom has any hint of a corolla or petal! Tiny male flowers consist of nothing but a reduced calyx and a cluster of four to twenty stamens. You can see more strange features of oak flowers on our Oak Flower Page.

Sweetgum flowersThe picture at the right shows flowers of one of the most common trees in Eastern North America, the Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. This twig grows on a tree right outside my door. In the picture you barely see the twig entering from the lower right corner. All the greenish or yellowish things in the photo have just emerged from the terminal bud of that twig, for the image was made in March, just as many tree buds were breaking open during spring.

In the picture the star-shaped or hand-shaped green items are immature leaves on their slender petioles. The large, yellowish, pyramidal structure occupying most of the top half of the picture is composed of spherical clusters of stamens -- the male, pollen-producing parts. Notice that below the pyramid of stamen clusters and the leaves there are three smaller, spherical structures, one of them hanging down, the other two arching toward the right. These are clusters of female flowers consisting of nothing but pistils. The grainy features covering the female clusters are the yellowish stigmas. In the spring, once pollen is shed from the male flowers, the entire large pyramid structure falls from the tree, littering the ground below the tree quite a bit, but the few female structures remain on the twig with the leaves, enlarge, and in the fall form golfball-size, spiky fruits.

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