Flowering plants, also known as angiosperms, make up the largest portion of the plant kingdom (260,000 species in 453 classified families). According to a report in the Nov. 27, 1998, issue of the journal Science, a 140-year-old fossilized flowering plant was found in forests of China. Flowers are part of human history, playing prominent roles in legend and myth. The beautiful blooms enhance our gardens and landscapes. Flowers also have several unique qualities that make them more than ornamental.
There are hundreds of known uses for flowers in both traditional and nontraditional medicine. For example, Roman soldiers would take daffodils with them to battles because the flower was believed to have healing powers.
Today, flowers' medicinal properties are hailed as miracle cures for everything from nervousness to headaches. The calendula flower is thought to relieve menstrual pain and sore throats. Leaves and stems from the honeysuckle flower are used to ease pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. And, rose petals are used to counteract depression. The scent of lavender and other aromatic flowers is used in aromatherapy to treat nervousness and headaches.
Though most people don't think of flowers as food, there are several varieties that are edible. Sprinkle marigolds on soups, pasta, rice or salads. Use carnations as cake decorations, or trim the tops of the petals for use in salads. The petals of a daylily can be used in desserts and salads. In early spring, the shoots can be cooked and served as a substitute for asparagus.
Not all flowers are edible, and some are extremely poisonous. Do some research before using flower petals in food.
The beautiful blooms of flowering plants lure animals and people. But flowers are no wimps. Many have special qualities used for protection.
Roses are well-known for the thorns along their stems. Daffodils have tiny crystals in their sap. This prevents animals from eating them, and also can cause a rash on humans when picking or harvesting the flower. The mimosa flower curls up even if slightly touched. The sunflower rotates, following the sun throughout the day as protection against the cold.
Many beautiful flowers, such as the clematis, wisteria, poinsettia and the gardenia, are poisonous if consumed by animals and humans. The poison also causes skin irritation.
During the 1600s, tulip bulbs were worth more than gold. ("Financial Analysts Journal Vol. 54, No. 4"; Mark Hirschey; July/Aug. 1998)
According to the American Society of Roses, there are more than 15,000 species of roses.
What's Cooking America notes that the vegetable, broccoli, is also considered a flower because of its florets.
Scientists use sunflowers (grown in soil) or hydroponically in water to remove radiation. (Source: Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi: http://network.earthday.net/profiles/blogs/1734264:BlogPost:37435)
Florists sell more carnations than any other cut flower because they have a long blooming season, according to the American Society of Florists.
Saffron, the world's most expensive spice, is from a specific type of crocus flower. (Source: "Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice"; Pat Willard; 2002)
Though many gardens are home to familiar flowers, such as daisies, mums, carnations, violets and roses, some flowers are unusual and rarely seen by the average person.
Looking more like a giant mushroom, the blood-red Rafflesia arnoldii grows up to 3 feet wide and can weigh as much as 24 lbs. in the rainforests of Borneo, the Phillipines and Indonesia.
Another flower found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Indonesia is the Titan Arum, which sometimes grows as tall as 10 feet high (the bloom, not the plant) and can weigh as much as 125 lbs. But don't stop to smell this flower; it gives off an aroma that smells like rotting flesh.
In the United States, the Western Skunk Cabbage and Eastern Skunk Cabbage have flowers that smell like their namesake.