Above and below: Passiflora, the passion flower. For many years I would say that the passion flower was my favourite
flower, but to be honest I don't think I have a favorite (it was the tulip once, then the lupin, then the snapdragon, then the
bluebell ...). Indeed, one of the great fascinations about Nature is the diversity of forms that it generates - variety is the
spice of life, as they say!

Flowers are modified shoots in which the sterile and fertile reproductive organs are borne on an axis (the
This modified shoot exhibits determinate growth meaning that it ceases growth once the flower is developed (the floral
meristem ceases activity after all the floral parts have been produced). Individual parts of the flower may continue to show
growth, as the small growth changes which bring about opening and closing of flowers in response to temperature and
light (

The parts are arranged in whorls rather than in a spiral or helix.
Cohesion, that is fusion or joining together of members
of a whorl is frequent and the whorl then grows as a unit. For example, petals may cohere to form a flower-tube (coralla or
petal tube).
Adnation is the fusion  of one whorl to another, in which case two or more whorls grow as a unit. For
example, the fusion of anther filaments to petals.

Flowers are the sexual reproductive organs of the flowering plants (angiosperms) and consist of sterile and fertile
reproductive organs borne on the swollen end of a shoot axis (
receptacle). The flower is a modified leafy (vegetative)
shoot. The leaf-bearing nodes of the shoot now bear structures derived from leaves and the internodes between these
nodes are greatly shortened to bring several whorls of these modified leaves together. Like all shoots, flowering shoots
grow from buds in the axils of leaves (axillary buds) on the parent shoot. These buds typically produce green leafy shoots,
but when the time for flowering arrives some of these buds switch to a different developmental program and put out an

(flowering shoot) bearing one or more flowers, or flowers may simply develop at the ends of vegetative
shoots. The leaf accompanying this bud may become modified and is known as a bract. The bract now sits at the base of
the inflorescence. The inflorescence puts out one or more flowers, each borne on its own stalk or
pedicel and each
deriving from a terminal flower bud. Once a bud switches to become a flower the shoot ends there - no more branches will
be produced from this shoot tip and it becomes destined to become a flower and the
meristem, or growing tip, ceases
activity once all the flower parts have been produced.

Sepals and Petals

The various organs of the flower are arranged in whorls that encircle the stem, rather than in helixes or spirals as are
most leaves. The lowest whorl of leaf-like structures to make up the flower is called the
calyx and is made up of leaf-like
sepals. Sepals are often green and photosynthetic, like ordinary leaves, but differing in shape and with a more compact
internal structure. In this case the calyx is referred to as
sepaloid. In others they turn into hard scales to protect the
developing bud and they may be shed once the flower opens. Sepals may remain attached to the flower and fall off when
the flower withers or they may remain and form part of the fruit, possibly contributing to the flesh of the fruit. In the passion
flower above, the sepals are five in number and look much like the petals, but are greener in colour and end in hook-like
awns. A calyx comprising sepals that resemble petals is called

Sepals and petals resemble
leaves in structure – they consist of parenchyma, have a more or less branched vascular
system and an epidermis. Crystal-containing cells, laticifers, tannin cells and other idioblasts (cells containing special
substances) may be present. Young petals may contain starch. Green sepals contain chloroplasts but rarely have
differentiated palisade and spongy mesophylls. Petals contain pigments in chromoplasts (carotenoids) and in the cell sap
(flavonoids – anthocyanins). Some of these pigments may radiate in the UV. Epidermal cells of petals often contain
volatile fragrant oils. The epidermis of both sepals and petals may have stomata and trichomes (hairs, which may be
glandular and secrete various substances).


The next whorl of 'leaves' along the shoot develop into petals that together constitute the corolla- they are white in our passion flower. The internal structure of petals is much like that of green leaves, except that they are modified to perform less (if any) photosynthesis and instead their plastids may store pigments to give the petals colour. In green leaves these plastids develop into chloroplasts which contain green chlorophyll, giving the leaf its green colour. Chlorophyll absorbs light and harvests energy from the light to make sugars from carbon dioxide gas from the air and water. From these sugars the plant will make all the building materials it needs to make its body - fats, proteins, nucleic acids, long-chain carbohydrates, etc. The roots supply both the necessary water (in most plants) and mineral ions from the soil. Chloroplasts also contain yellow-orange-red pigments called carotenoids. Usually these pigments are masked by the green chlorophyll (except in plants with reddish leaves like copper beech) but become visible in autumn when chlorophyll has been broken down and resorbed by the plant, leaving behind the carotenoids to give the leaves their splendid autumn colours. Pigments may also be stored inside the plant cell vacuole, principally flavonoids like anthocyanins which are red, purple or blue depending upon the pH (acidity) of the cell sap within the vacuole. Anthocyanins also add to the autumn colours of leaves. Many petals also have a special microstructure to their surface tissue which comprises an epidermis (that is a sheet of covering cells) of conical cells bearing ridges. These ridges help to focus the light and enhance the petal's colour. The petals of some flowers remain green and photosynthetic. These flowers tend to be wind pollinated and are usually small. Plants with large, showy, colourful flowers are advertising for animals to come and pollinate them. Insects, birds, bats and other animals may act as pollinators. Some flowers provide only excess pollen as food, with which to reward their animal pollinators, but others, like the passion flower, possess nectaries that secrete a sugary nectar that is often fine-tuned to meet the dietary needs of the flower's favourite pollinator. The epidermal cells of the petals may secrete fragrant oils to help lure their animal pollinators.

In the passion flower some of the petals are modified into coronal filaments, forming the spectacularly colourful 'crown of thorns'. These colourful flowers are easy for the animal to spot at a distance and the arrangement of petals and their colours guide the animal to the food reward of pollen and/or nectar. It is in a sense by chance that many insect-pollinated flowers are colourful to our eyes, since although some insects, like bees, have good colour vision they are also able to see ultraviolet light, which gives them a very different perception of colour, and to them a flower looks very different as they see colours differently. In ultraviolet many insect-pollinated flowers bear additional markings, often stripes that guide the insect straight to the nectar, rather as markings guide a taxiing plane on a runway. I say, 'in a sense' because most mammals can not see colour at all. Primates are a rare exception, they have colour vision probably to help them locate fruit in the canopy. Since fruit possess many similar pigments and colours as flowers, we can see both.

The calyx of sepals and the corolla of petals are the sterile parts of the flower and together they form the
perianth. Sometimes the sepals and petals are very alike and hard to distinguish, in this case they are called tepals.

Passion flower anatomy

Fertile Organs

Finally we come to the fertile organs of the flower - the male stamens (microsporophylls) that together form the
androecium and the female carpels (megasporophylls) that form the gynoecium.

Many flowers have both male and female organs and are called perfect flowers. In some species flowers may have
only the male parts (staminate flowers) or the female parts (carpellate or pistillate flowers) and these are called
imperfect flowers. In species with
imperfect flowers, male and female flowers may occur on the same branch,
different branches or on separate plants. In the latter case the plant has distinct male and female individuals and is
said to be
dioecious. Many plants, however, are far more confused and may contain male, female and individuals that
are hermaphrodite to a variable degree.

The stamens (also called
microsporophylls, which literally means leaves producing microspores) were also derived
from leaves over the course of evolution. Indeed, the stamens of some plants are still leaf-like and bear sporangia
(spore producing organs) underneath, rather like ferns and other non-flowering plants that produce spores from
sporangia underneath fertile fronds. The fossil record tells us that flowering plants appeared quite late in evolution
(and genetic analysis reveals that their dramatic speciation is in large part due to their tendency to hybridise) and
some flowering plants still bear such 'primitive' or archaic characteristics. The stamens of most flowers, however,
comprise an anther head borne on a slender stalk or filament. The anther produces pollen (microspores) in (usually
four) pollen sacs (microsporangia) within it. The pollen contain the male sperm and when ripe the anthers dry and
rupture (
dehisce, dehiscence) to release their spores. The anthers may dehisce by splitting to form a longitudinal
slit (as in cotton) or a transverse slit (as in basil) or a single pore called the stomium or a number of pores (e.g. potato)
or they split into a number of valves as in bay leaf. The layer of cells in the anther wall may contain strips that twist
upon drying to bring about rupture.

The encasement of sperm in pollen is an adaptation to life on land as the tough casing of the pollen wall resists dry
conditions and allows the sperm to be transported to a female plant by animal or wind, over many miles if need be.
Moss, ferns and cycads and other archaic lineages are less well adapted to life on land and still produce naked sperm
(as their algal ancestors did) that require a film of moisture in which to swim.

The female carpels may be separate (an
apocarpous flower) but are often fused together into a single structure (a
syncarpous flower). Sometimes the word pistil is used to describe a single carpel in an apocarpous flower or the
single compound carpel of a syncarpous flower. The carpel is a modified folded leaf rolled up with its margins more or
less fused together. The final structure has one or more internal cavities called
locules, in which future embryos may
develop. The
style is the the upper elongated part of the pistil and is absent in some flowers. The style ends in the
stigma, usually a bulbous structure. The remainder of the carpel is the ovary, or main body of the carpel. The stigma
is the receptive region to which pollen adheres prior to fertilization. The pollen grain then grows a
pollen tube down
through the style to reach the ovary and then into an
ovule ('little egg'), attached by a placenta to the ovary wall
inside one of the locules and then it discharges the sperm through a pore in the ovule, called the micropore or

. The sperm enter the embryo sac (which is derived from a megaspore) within the ovule, which contains
the female egg cell (
ovum) and a few other (haploid) cells. Only pollen from the right species is accepted and even
then pollen from the same plant may be rejected, thereby favoring cross-pollination and outbreeding which keeps the
genetic stock strong by preventing inbreeding.

Flowers have various other tricks to ensure cross-pollination, or to prevent self-pollination. One of these is
in which the male organs develop before the female organs on the same flower. In the passion flower, the styles are
erect when the flower opens initially, holding the stigmas well out of the way of the anthers and any insect visitors that
may brush past the anther, collecting pollen, and then brush the stigma of the same flower. As the anthers become
exhausted of pollen, the styles bend down, finally bringing the stigmas to the same level as the anthers. Now when an
insect visits the nectaries there is no pollen left to collect, but it can easily brush the stigmas and deposit pollen from
another plant.

The passion flower is what we call an
actinomorphic flower, meaning that it has 'circular' symmetry (strictly radial
). Some flowers, like the white deadnettle, Lamium alba, have zygomorphic flowers which have only a
single plane of symmetry and distinct left and right halves and a distinct top and bottom (they have
, as do human beings!). These are evolved from actinomorphic flowers by assymetrical fusion of the petals
into a floral tube (the corolla). This restricts access to the nectar at the base of the floral tube to those pollinators that
can reach it. This exclusivity evolves when a plant finds certain pollinators extremely reliable and so it rewards them by
saving its nectar by not giving it to less reliable pollinators.

The white deadnettle (White Archangel,
Lamium album) is also protandrous. In the male stage, the style has not yet
elongated far enough to position the stigma near the entrance, but the anthers are in position and visiting animals will
brush against them to collect pollen. In the female stage, the anthers are spent and the style has elongated to position
the stigma right at the entrance to the flower, where visiting animals can easily brush against it and deposit pollen.

Above: a half-flower diagram of Lamium album in the female stage (top) and earlier male stage (bottom left). Bottom
right is the floral diagram and floral formula. In the floral diagram, the topmost small circle (sometimes drawn with a
cross, +,  inside it) indicates the position of the axis of the flower and tells us that we are looking straight down the nd of
the receptacle, that is we are viewing the flower face-on. The black arc beneath shows us which side the bract sits on,
at the base of the flower stalk. Next we have the outermost whorl of five sepals, drawn bridged together to show that
they are joined together (as they are toward the base of the flower). When members of the same whorl join together we
say that they cohere and we have cohesion of the parts. Inside the sepals are the five petals which have the four
stamens attached to them inside. The petals are coherent or joined to one another. The fusion of members of different
whorls, such as the stamens to the petals, is called adnation, they are adnated. Innermost are the two carpels, fused
together into a single pistil with four chambers or

The ovary can be described as either inferior or superior. In an
inferior ovary (epigyny, epigynous ovary) the sepals,
petals and stamens are borne on the receptacle above the ovary - a more advanced condition than the superior ovary
(hypogyny, hypogynous ovary) in which the sepals, petals and stamens occur below the ovary. In
perigyny, an
extension above the receptacle resembling a cup (receptacular or appendicular floral tube) bears the sepals, petals
and stamens.

Finally, although many flowers are hermaphroditic many are also
imperfect flowers, meaning they are unisexual,
lacking either the gynoecium (
staminate flowers) or the androecium (carpellate or pistillate flowers). Sometimes both male and female parts are present, but one is non-functional, in which case the flower can be described as
functionally pistillate or staminate.

floral formula describes this flower to us - the dagger symbol tells us that the flower is zygomorphic. K represents the sepals of the calyx, and we see that there are five of them. The C is the corolla, which is made up of five petals as indicated, but enclosed in brackets () to tell us that the petals are fused together into a floral tube. A represents the androecium, containing 4 members. The square brackets [] around the corolla (C) and androecium (A) tell us that these two whorls are adnate (fused to each other). Finally we have the gynoecium (G) of two carpels fused together.

The pictures below (click to enlarge) show the snapdragon, another zygomorphic flower which is also protandrous.

Snapdragon 1

Snapdragon 2

The Carpel

The diagram below shows the structure of a typical angiosperm carpel. The ovary is the main body of the carpel and
contains the
ovule. The style is an extension of the ovary wall that holds aloft the stigma, which is a surface that is sticky to pollen and acts to receive and trap pollen grains. The ovule is attached to the ovary wall via a stalk, called the funiculus, which connects to a region of the ovary wall called the placenta. Vascular tissue (often a single vessel) passes from the placenta along the funiculus.


Carepl unlabeled

The diagram below shows the structure of a typical angiosperm carpel. The ovary is the main body of the carpel and
contains the
ovule. The style is an extension of the ovary wall that holds aloft the stigma, which is a surface that is sticky to pollen and acts to receive and trap pollen grains. The ovule is attached to the ovary wall via a stalk, called the funiculus, which connects to a region of the ovary wall called the placenta. Vascular tissue (often a single vessel) passes from the placenta along the funiculus.

The ovule develops as a protuberance projecting from the ovary wall in the region of the placenta, a mass of cells hemispherical folds grow around it (around the outer cells or nucellus), extending from the epidermis, by cell division, lining the inside of the ovary wall and which grow to enclose the ovule in almost complete spheres, called integuments. The integuments do not close over the ovule completely, but maintain a small opening called the micropyle. Since they are extensions of the ovary epidermis, the integuments are each lined (on the outside and inside) by cuticle.

Inside the developing ovule, the outer cell layers are vegetative and form the
nucellus. Inside the nucellus is the
sporogenous region. The
chalaza is the region of tissue where funiculus, integuments and nucellus meet. The sporogenous region begins as a large archesporial cell, which gives rise to a megaspore mother cell (MMC) either by direct differentiation or by undergoing a mitotic division (see mitosis) into two daughter cells, a perietal cell and the MMC. The MMC undergoes meiosis to produce four haploid megaspores (enclosed in secreted callose walls which later dissolve). In most angiosperms, 3 of the 4 megaspores degenerate, but the remaining megaspore undergoes 3 successive mitotic divisions, doubling each time, to produce 8 haploid nuclei. These nuclei form the embryo sac, which is the female gametophyte (gamete producing 'plant').


The eight haploid nuclei of the gametophyte are enclosed in 7 cells. Three haploid cells form at the pole of the embryo sac opposite furthest from the micropyle, these are the 3 haploid antipodal cells. At the micropylar end, nearest the micropyle, three haploid cells are situated, two haploid synergids in front of and either side of the single haploid ovum or egg cell; together these three cells are called the egg apparatus. These six cells are surrounded by the large central cell, which has the two remaining haploid polar nuclei inside it (these two nuclei may fuse to form a single diploid nucleus, called the secondary endosperm nucleus, in some species). It has been shown that the integuments protect the embryo sac and developing embryo and prevent it from being crushed as the ovule develops, by taking up compressive stresses. The nucellus nourishes the developing embryo sac and embryo and may be partially or completely absorbed by contact with the embryo sac in which case it appears to takes over the nutritive role. The layer of cells immediately enclosing the embryo sac and forming its wall may develop wall ingrowths as may the central cell (increasing the surface area of their cell membranes, a characteristic that suggests they are transporting materials into or out of the embryo sac). It is probable that nutrients are being transported into the embryo sac and central cell from surrounding tissues supplied by vascular tissue through the placenta and funiculus.

This type of embryo sac development is the most common in angiosperms and is well-studied in
Polygonum and is referred to as monosporic development, since only one of the four megaspores produces the embryo sac. In other types, development may be bisporic (requiring 2 of the 4 megaspores) or tetrasporic (requiring all 4 megaspores). In these types of development not all the 8 nuclei produced need be haploid (though the ovum always is) and triploid (3n) or even tetraploid (4n) nuclei may result.

The synergids have incomplete cell walls, covering the two-thirds of the cells that face the micropyle, leaving the naked cell membrane to contact the central cell behind. These cell walls develop deep finger-like invaginations, forming the
filiform apparatus. The egg cell has a cell wall that also tends to be incomplete at the chalazal end (exposing naked cell membrane for fusion with a sperm cell at fertilization). In grasses the antipodal cells divide further by mitosis, producing a many-celled short-lived tissue which develops wall ingrowths where they border the nucellus, suggesting that they may serve some role in the loading of nutrients into the embryo sac.

Embryo sac

Alternation of Generations

Plants exhibit an alternation of generations. In mammals the diploid adults (diploid means that they have 2 copies of each chromosome (2n) one from the father and one from the mother) produce haploid gametes, eggs and sperm (haploid means that only one copy of each chromosome is present) which fuse at fertilisation to form a diploid single-celled zygote which develops (by mitosis) into the embryo. In plants, reproduction is a more complicated affair. Plants alternate between separate diploid sporophyte plants and haploid gametophyte plants. The sporophytes produce spores that give rise to the gametophytes, which produces spores that become the gametes. In ferns, these two generations are physically separate plants, with the sporophyte being the dominant plant we know and the gametophyte small and easily overlooked, in mosses and liverworts, the gametophyte is the dominant plant and the sporophyte grows almost parasitically from it. In angiosperms, the sporophyte forms the dominant plant body and the gametophyte, not really now a separate plant at all, forms a groups of cells firmly attached to the sporophyte body. The female gametophyte is the embryo sac, the male gametophyte is the pollen grain.

Anthers and Pollen grains

The stamen is a microsporophyll - a modified leaf that produces microsopores, and consists of a filament (stalk)
bearing the anther. The anther contains pollen sacs, which are the microsporangia in which the microspores are produced and are made up of sporogenous tissue and surrounding wall layers. For example, the anther of cotton (
Gossypium arboreum) is bilobed (has two lobes) and is bisporangiate (has two microsporangia).

The developing anther consists of an outer cell layer, the protoderm (which becomes the epidermis) and an underlying
(hypodermal) cell layer of
archesporial cells. The archesporial cells undergo periclinal mitotic divisions (periclinal means parallel to the surface of the anther) so that this single layer of cells becomes two cell layers, the outer or primary parietal (wall) layer and the primary sporogenous cell layer. The outer parietal layer undergoes another set of periclinal cell divisions, producing two new cell layers, the secondary parietal layers. The outer secondary parietal layer undergoes a third periclinal division to produce two tertiary parietal layers. Thus at this stage there are three parietal layers (the inner secondary parietal and the middle and outer tertiary parietal cell layers) and the inner sporogenous cell layer. The sporogenous cells enlarge and transform directly (or by mitosis) into microspore mother cells (SMCs). Now, in total the anther wall has 4 cell layers: the outer epidermis, an underlying cell layer (the outer tertiary parietal layer) which becomes the endothecium, a middle cell layer (the inner tertiary parietal layer) and the innermost wall layer or tapetum (the inner secondary parietal layer, which also incorporates some parenchyma cells from the central tissues of the anther). (In some species there are two middle layers, as the inner secondary parietal layer may also divide, making 5 layers in total). The middle layer degenerates and becomes crushed between the tapetum and endothecium and is absorbed by these cells, leaving 3 cell layers outside the sporogenous tissue in a mature anther. Inside this is the layer of spore mother cells and then the parenchyma connective tissue that fills the centre of the anther. The endothecium (just beneath the epidermis) develops secondary cell wall thickenings over its radial walls and its inner most tangential wall (tangential = parallel to the surface of the anther, i.e. the back wall), except in the region of the stomium, which is the region where the anther will open when releasing pollen.

The miscrospore mother cells (also called pollen mother cells or microsporocytes) undergo
meiosis to produce 4 haploid microspores (pollen grains in their early stage with one nucleus each). At first, the SMCs are compacted together and joined by plasmodesmata. During meiosis, callose walls are deposited around them, the pre-existing cellulose cell walls disintegrate, and the cells round-off, remaining connected to one another by wide cytoplasmic bridges that traverse channels (of about 1.5 micrometre diameter) in the callose. These cytoplasmic connections allows the SMCs to communicate rapidly with one-another, ensuring that they develop in synchrony. (In Gymnosperms, including conifers, there are no such connections and the SMCs develop asynchronously). The connections disappear before the completion of meiosis, so that each SMC gives rise to 4 isolated cells (a tetrad) often in a tetrahedral arrangement. The tapetum (the innermost parietal layer) develops in synchrony with the SMCs and its cells become multinucleate or polyploid (they make multiple copies of each chromosome) increasing the numbers of copies of each gene that they have, allowing more rapid synthesis of proteins and they provide nutrition to the developing spores. There are two types of tapetum. Type 1 is glandular/secretory and lyses (they burst as their cell walls rupture) after meiosis to deposit lipid-rich material, called tryphine, over the maturing pollen grains. Type 2 lose their cell walls and becom amoeboidal, fusing together into a multinucleate plasmodium whose cell processes protrude amongst the developing pollen and which dehydrates before anthesis (the time of complete flower development and opening) to deposit tryphine over the maturing pollen. The end result is essentially the same in both cases.

The microsporocytes each become enveloped in a complex cell wall with an outermost rigid layer called the exine and an inner flexible layer called the nexine (a double layer) overlying the cell membrane. There are pores in the exine, where the nexine thickens, with one pore being usual in monocotyledons, three in most dicotyledons. These pores may be circular or elongated slits. The exine contains sporopollenin, a very tough and resistant polymer and sometimes also silicon for extra hardness 9one of the few known uses of silicon in plants). The exine is more or less sculptured. In wind-pollinated flowers, the pollen grains are usually small and smooth for easy transport, but in animal pollinated flowers they can be larger (and so contain more food reserves) and are spikier, allowing them to stick to animal bodies better. The nexine contains pectin and cellulose. The exine pores allow the pollen tube to emerge during pollen grain germination.

Before the pollen is shed, each grain originally containing a single microspore nucleus, undergoes mitosis to produce two haploid nuclei, a
vegetative nucleus (VN) and a generative nucleus (GN). The generative nucleus undergoes a second mitotic division, either before or after the pollen is shed, to produce two sperm cells. The sperm cells are spindle-shaped (microtubules form rod-like bundles inside the cells to maintain their shape), lack cell walls, and are joined together head-to-tail and surrounded by the vegetative cell (thus each sperm cell is enclosed in a double cell membrane, the inner cell membrane being its own and the outer belonging to the vegetative cell).

Winter Jasmine pollen

Above: pollen grains of winter Jasmine.

Below: cross-sections through stamens of Chrsyanthemum, showing the filament and the two three apparent cell layers forming the anther walls and  containing tetrads (groups of 4).

Chrysanthemum anther

Chrysanthemum anther

Below: more stamens of Chrysanthemum, on the right is a close up view of a section through the filament - click images to enlarge; note that the pollen grains are still maturing and are arranged in groups of four (tetrads):

Chrysanthemum stamen

Chrysanthemum stamen

Chrysanthemum filament

Below: more Chrysanthem floral parts, left - petal in transverse section; middle - sepals in transverse section; right - carpel in transverse section; note that many of the parenchyma cells in the anthers, petals and sepals, are loaded with dense material which will be the pigments of the flower to give it its colour which is so attractive to pollinators:

Chrysanthemum petal

Chrysanthemum sepals

Chrysanthemum carpel

Below: mature pollen grains of Chrysanthemum in section. Note that the pollen grains are now separated from their tetrads (by dissolution of the callose walls which bound them together) and that the wall of each pollen grain is made up of two main layers - the outer exine, which is sculpted, in this case into columns called pili (singular 'pilum') and the inner intine. The exine contains a very resistant material called sporopollenin, which is a polymer derived from carotenoids and carotenoid esters. The smoother intine contains pectin and cellulose. The pollen grains of some plants also incorporate silica, which adds to the resistance of the walls to biological decay and weathering. There are circular or elongated regions of the exine which are thinner and it is through one of these regions that the pollen tube will emerge. One or two such regions are visible in one of the pollen grains in the middle image. Monocotyledons usually have one such region, dicotyledons three.

Chrsanthemum pollen in section

Chrsanthemum pollen in section

Chrsanthemum pollen in section


1. Pollen attaches to the stigma of a receptive carpel, this is pollination.

2. Proteins on the pollen grain and stigma may determine compatibility in those species favouring cross-pollination, so
that only pollen from another plant will germinate.

3. The
pollen grain germinates - it grows an extension of the vegetative cell, called the pollen tube, through one of
the pollen grain exine pores/apertures.

4. The VN and the two connected sperm cells (or GN if it is yet to divide) travel down the pollen tube as a single unit, with
the cell organelles accompanying them. This movement is driven primarily by actin and myosin filaments of the
cytoskeleton. The pollen tube grows near its tip and deposits a cell wall (of carbohydrate polymers) as it does so. The
older basal regions of the pollen tube may be closed off by callose plugs behind the nuclei descending along it.

5. The pollen tube grows at about 1-2 mm/h, making its way through the style tissues and into the space around the
ovule, following the ovule along the integument surface and entering via the micropyle, or sometimes working its way
along the funiculus to the chalaza. If the pollen tube needs to cross any remaining nucellus, then the nucellar cells in its
path disintegrate to provide easy passage.

Possible paths of pollen tube growth shown in red. Once one pollen tube reaches the synergid, degeneration of the synergid removes the attractive signal and other germinating pollen tubes cease development, so that only one pollen grain achieves fertilisation.


6. The synergid cells attract the pollen tube (by a mechanism that is not yet understood), one more so than the other. The
pollen tube enters this synergid cell through its filiform apparatus, after which the synergid degenerates (the other
synergid degenerates also, though often at a later time). The pollen tube tip opens inside the synergid and the two sperm
cells emerge, separate and become tightly coiled. The VN also emerges and degenerates, along with the synergid
nucleus, forming X-bodies.

7. The two sperms are directed by the synergid cell (apparently by its actin cytoskeleton), one is led to the ovum, the
other to the central cell. the synergid cell membrane dissolves. The first sperm fuses with the ovum and enters it, after
which the sperm and egg nuclei fuse to produce the
diploid zygote. The second sperm fuses with the two polar nuclei
(or the diploid endosperm nucleus formed by their prior fusion) to form a triploid fusion nucleus or
primary endosperm
. This peculiar double fertilisation is a characteristic of angiosperms.

8. The ovule develops into the seed, the integuments forming the seed coat and the ovary forming the fruit. The zygote
develops into the plant embryo, whilst the primary endosperm nucleus gives rise to
endosperm tissue which nourishes
the developing embryo/seedling after seed germination.                  

Floral Formulae

A floral formula is a code indicating the number of flower parts, whorls, the attachment of parts and the
nature of the gynoecium. E.g.
Lamium album (white dead nettle):

†K(5) [C(5) A4]

The † indicates a zygomorphic flower, i.e. a flower with bilateral symmetry. various symbols, such as a cross in a circle (we may use + as it is easier to type!) indicates an actinomorphic flower, that is one with radial symmetry. A @ is sometimes used to indicate spiral and not whorled parts, K = calyx, C = corolla, A = androecium, G = gynoecium. When sepals and petals are hard to distinguish, a P for perianth may be used in place of K and C. Numbers show number of members in a whorl, brackets that they are united. Square brackets or bridging lines show two separate whorls whose members are joined. A line above the G indicates an inferior ovary (it is below the line) whilst a line below indicates a superior ovary, as in this case.

It remains to explore the incredible diversity of flowers! Each genus and species of flowering plant, from the great oak tree to the smallest herb, has its own story to tell. Each is unique in both structure and physiology, uniquely evolved and uniquely adapted. As well as studying the beautiful form of these organisms and their flowers, it is informative to consider how each is adapted to survive. Every little flower has tricks of its own!

Visit the woodland and nearby meadows to see more flowers.

Flower modle

A fictitious flower rendered from a 3D computer model that uses
mathematical functions.
Click here to see how to make flower models in Pov-Ray.

More Flowers



Asteraceae (Compositae)

Lamiaceae (labiates)

Urticaceae (Nettle Family)

Flower Development

Boraginaceae (Borage family)


Brassicaceae (Cabbage family)

Rosaceae (Rose family)


Caryophyllaceae (Campion or pink family)

Campanulaceae (Bellflowers)


Adoxacea (Moschatel)

Polygalaceae (Milkworts)

Apiaceae (Carrot family)

Fabaceae (Pea Family)


Salt marsh flowers (Chenopodiaceae)

Woodland flowers

Roadside flowers

Meadow flowers


Even More Flowers Info

Memorable Flowers - quotes about flowers
Yellow Rose Flower - meaning of flowers
Avas Flowers - floral arrangements and bouquets
Freesia Flowers - greenhouse flower arrangements
Hiking Flowers - flowers and plants to see while hiking
Home Garden Flowers - flower tips for home gardens

flower animation

Article last updated:
23 August 2015
30 April 2016
26 June 2020