Ready for Take Off

Composite Seeds
Composites, with their achenes parachuted by the perfectly designed pappus.

These seeds are ready for take off. As kids we all enjoyed the Dandelions in the yard. How magical it was to blow on the seed heads and watch the little parachutes take flight. As an adult I am amazed at the perfection of design of this family of flowers commonly called Composites, of the botanical family Asteraceae.

What we may think of as a single flower, such as a Sunflower or Dandelion, is actually a composite of multiple flowers. The outside flowers- what we might refer to as the ‘petals’ are actually specialized flowers called ray flowers. The center is made up of another type of specialized flower, the disk flower. So, in effect, the ‘flower head’ of a sunflower is comprised of dozens of specialized, miniature flowers.

Each tiny ray or disk flower may create a ‘seed’ potentially able to reproduce another mature plant. Attached to the achene is a unique structure called the pappus. Pappus structures display an amazing variety; from barb-like shapes wonderfully designed to stick to passers by, to the fine bristles most of us recognize in species such as Dandelion, ingeniously engineered to catch the slightest breeze in hopes of finding a suitable landing for germination.

For an easy to digest explanation of composite flower structures visit Back Yard Nature.

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