April showers have brought May flowers… to the blog. Today’s post is part of a May Bouquet series focused on flowers one might find in a bouquet. Y’know, leading up to Mother’s Day next Sunday. Think of these posts as daily reminders with wonderful suggestions on ways to honor the mothers in your lives.
Today we’ll have a look at the flower prevalent in many mixed-flower bouquets whose name you never learned- alstroemeria or Lily of the Incas. There are numerous species and cultivars, but they are native to South America. The different cultivars sport a variety of bloom sizes and markings. Alstroemeria are far more popular as cut flowers than garden plants, but they can be safely grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 – 11. They may tolerate the southern part of Zone 7 if the bulbs or rhizomes are adequately protected with layers of mulch during the winter months. Everyone else will just have to enjoy them as cut flowers or be prepared to host them indoors during winter.
The pictures provide ample evidence as to why alstroemeria are popular cut flowers. They come in all colors and have beautiful spot patterns on the petals. Take a closer look at some of the flowers. There is a method to the madness when it comes to the spot pattern for many alstromeria blooms. Notice how (at least for these varieties) only three of the petals have the spotted pattern, two on the top half of the flower and one on the bottom? How do you think the flowers know their orientation and produce those markings?
Well, the truth involves knowing a little bit more about plant flower development. You’re not really looking at a flower with six true petals. Only three of them are petals (the ones with the spots). The other three are derived from tissue that would normally be sepals (special leaves at the base of most flowers that appear to hold the buds and blossoms together). In the case of alstroemeria blossoms, the sepals follow a developmental program that makes them look more like petals than leaves. Of course, botany has a name for this situation- tepals (when the sepals and petals cannot really be distinguished from one another as flower components in the perianth). If you would like an even closer look, check out this link with stunning photos and microscopic images of alstroemeria flowers.
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