When is a Flower Flowers?

As you glance at the picture below how many flowers do you see?


Head shot of a marigold

I do not know exactly how many are visible, but the answer is a relatively large number. Each of the structures that you feel inclined to call a petal is actually a flower in this case. The entire structure is called a head (which consists of ray flowers that look like petals and in the middle you’ll find disk flowers that look like tubes). Welcome to the crazy world of Asteracaeae.


An individual marigold ray flower.

 In the case of a mum the ray flowers and disk flowers are a bit easier to spot.


Since this is a Dendranthema maybe it should be called a ma?

So the individual parts look like this (well, almost like this, the picture below was taken with a different Dendranthema cultivar).


Disk and ray flowers of a mum.

So as a bit of a review, how many flowers are featured in this picture?


Dianthus 'Frosty Fire'

Ah, this is a trick question. Dianthus is in a different plant family, so it just one flower. The things that look like petals are actually petals. Of course you could argue that the answer is two based upon the glimpse of a second flower on the left margin.

Back to the Asteraceae.


An abundance of flowers.

By the way, if you ever refer to a head of flowers as an individual flower I won’t think less of you.



Filed under Horticulture

2 responses to “When is a Flower Flowers?

  1. madahmas

    I didn’t know that. So does a rose or a tulip head have individual flowers too?

    • Both roses and tulips are solitary flowers, meaning the entire structure is one flower. The things that look like petals are actually petals. Many roses have been cultivated to have a large number of petals because people tend to prefer that look (excessive numbers of petals are not practical for the plant, so they would not be likely to develop in nature).

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