One of 80 species of violet

A flower is a blossom with distinction.

If it is growing naturally, uncultivated, free from human intervention, it is a wildflower.

Examples: Trillium and Blood Root.

Trillium

It is an exotic if it has been introduced from some other area or country.

Examples: Daffodils and Dahlias.

A hybrid is reproduced sexually by combining two species, creating a desired or accidental outcome.

Examples: Echinacea, Foxglove, and Peppermint.. 

People and animals can also be wild, exotic, and hybrid. Example: a mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse.

Spring is a story about the return of light. The sun summons all life to follow. We welcome the flowers responding to increased sunlight. There is a feeling of joy radiated by their presence, like old friends we haven’t seen in over a year. If there were a way to measure the revitalized energy experienced from their presence, the guage would probably show significant changes in the chemical molecules and hormones found in the human body and brain.

In early spring, when the sun has moved closer and shines through the leafless trees, it heats the earth. It reaches beneath the winter, forest floor to the tubers, corms, bulbs, and rhizomes that have been protecting nutrition stored within plants all winter. Now it is time to awaken and use that energy to push tender, green shoots through the rich, woodland soil. Soon stems, leaves, and flowers appear. Pollinators are enticed to go to work. Fruits are ripened, and seeds are dispersed.

Wildflower and waterfall

Besides the ubiquitous daffodils, the efficient ephemerals are some of the earliest wildflowers to appear. Examples: Dutchman’s breeches, Squirrel corn, Anemones, Chickweed, Spring beauty, Toothwort, and Trilliums.

They don’t stay long. By the time leaves appear on the trees and create a canopy, these wildflowers have bloomed, stored nutrition in their roots, and completed their whole life cycle. Before summer arrives, they have totally disappeared leaving no trace of their above ground form.

The advantage of full sunlight to these early flowers is proficient photosynthesis. It can quickly feed flowers and restore nutrition to their root system. They also have less competition for pollinating insects. As the energy giving light is diminished by the shade of tree leaves, they become dormant. They don’t waste energy by maintaining foliage all summer.

Thank goodness, other wildflowers bloom, retain leaves, and ripen fruit long after the leaf canopy covers the forest.

Most flowers are blatant attention-seekers. Their male and female anatomy is openly exposed for easy pollination, sex.

The prominent part of a flower is its petals. They attract pollinators that actively transfer the male sperm, called pollen, to the female part tucked down inside the center of the flower.

The male parts, called stamens, look like little stalks extending out of the flower. At the tip end of those are anthers (think of antlers), containing the pollen.

The female part, called a pistil, arises from the bottom of the flower. The bulbous ovary lies just above the glands that produce edible, sweet nectar, which attracts a pollinating carrier.

At the top of the pistil is the stigma, a receptive area open to catch pollen grains. Pollination occurs when the pollen has entered the stigma and starts to germinate.

A mature ovary becomes the fruit. The mature ovule is the seed. The seed is the embryo capable of reproducing another plant.

A natural selection of pollinators by flowers is distinctively advertised by their shape, color, and size. Moreover, just like humans, their sexual orientation is varied. They can be bi-sexual, asexual, and occasionally chose to be transsexual.

At maturity, seeds are dispersed in various ways. They can be relocated by insects, animals, birds, water, and fire. Some plants just wildly throw their seeds to the wind.

There are other obvious parts of flower structure.

Sepals are small leaves wrapped around the bud to protect it. Example: Rose bud

Some flowers have tepals. They are the combination of leaf-like sepals and petals that look similar.

Example: Tulip

Bracts act like petals surrounding indistinct, very small flowers. Example: Dogwood.

The ability to send and receive messages is one of the distinctive characteristics of living beings. Communication and sexual activity are imperative for reproduction and the evolution of life. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even the flowers do it. Every living thing does it.

Yes, plants communicate with each other as well as with pollinators in order to maximize seed production. They use bribery, treachery, or traps to encourage their success.

As humans, we understand how and usually understand why we converse. Communication informs, entertains, advertises, rewards, and can attract a mate. However, explaining the processes utilized by plants is complex and challenging. They respond to stimuli such as light, moisture, temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide concentrations; parasite infestation; wind, fire, and physical disruptions.

According to a growing consensus among biologists and biophysicists such as Neuroscience researchers: Mark Waldman, Loyola Marymount University and Andrew Newberg, MD, Jefferson University Hospital, plants, animals, even single-celled organisms have the ability to perceive the environment and adjust their physiology to transmit information to one another. They use hormonal and chemical molecules that closely mirror the neuro-flexibility found in human brains. For example, they have many strategies to fight off pests. They can produce different toxins against invaders to hinder them from spreading.

It is rewarding living in this stage of evolution, when there is exciting research and new knowledge about plants. It is also gratifying to have distinctly visible wildflowers. Two hundred fifty million years ago, there were only gymnosperms, plants with leaves like ferns and conifers. There were no spectacular flowers. Their reproduction was totally dependent on spores and cones.

Therefore, it is time to follow the sun, head for the woods, and discover the gems of living color among the dead leaves of winter.

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Wilma Durpo is a Blue Ridge Naturalist, a National Park Service and Friends of the Smokies volunteer, a respected hiking guide and a resident of Lake Junaluska.

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