November 24, 2012 2:52 am

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The world is full of flowers. They grow on every continent. They grow in the hottest, driest deserts and in the frozen Arctic. People grow them year-round. No matter where you live, you can usually see a flower somewhere.
What exactly is a flower? What’s it for?
Plants make flowers because flowers make seeds. Seeds are a way many plants reproduce, or make new plants. So, flowers help plants reproduce themselves.
Flowers also make fruit as part of the reproduction process. Once the seeds start to ripen, a part of the flower grows around them. This is what fruit is. Fruit feeds, protects, and helps to spread a plant’s seeds.
So, the next time you eat an apple or pear or peach, think about this: what you’re eating came from a flower. In fact, without flowers, there would be no fruit at all!
Flowers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are so small you can barely see them. A type of duckweed called Wolffia makes a flower so small that a dozen blooms could fit on the head of a pin. Other flowers are enormous. A flower in Southeast Asia called Rafflesia can grow to 3 feet (about 1 meter) wide.
Some plants make flowers year after year. Others only bloom every two years. And some flowering plants live only one season. New ones must grow from seeds every year.
Most flowers wait for a certain time of year or certain conditions to bloom. The morning glory opens with the sunrise. Yucca flowers open at sunset. The night-blooming cereus opens only at night.
Sometimes a bare desert can burst suddenly into colorful flowers after a single big rain. The flowers wait for just the right conditions and then bloom quickly.
Seeds only develop after they are fertilized by pollen. So to make seeds, flowers must first make a powdery substance called pollen. The pollen then has to be carried from one flower to another flower of the same type, or sometimes to a different part of the same flower. Once this happens, the seeds are fertilized. They can then begin to mature.
For flowers to move the pollen, they need help. In many plants, wind or water spreads the pollen. But most of the help comes from insects such as bees and butterflies, or other animals such as bats. These creatures all feed on flowers. When they do, they move the pollen.
Maybe you’ve seen a honey bee working in a flower? The bee is collecting pollen or maybe the flower’s sweet nectar. Bees use pollen to feed young bees. They use nectar to make honey. While the bee works, pollen sticks to its body. When the bee moves to a new flower, some of the pollen falls off on the new flower.
People prize flowers for their beauty. We paint pictures of them and use them for decorations. We give them as signs of friendship, love, or remembrance. Some flowers are important in religious ceremonies. Others are considered sacred by some groups.
Flowers have many practical uses. Lavender is a flower used to make perfume. Witch hazel is used in cosmetics. A flower called the rosy periwinkle is used to make medicine to fight leukemia, a blood disease.
Like other animals, people even eat some kinds of flowers! You probably have. Broccoli and cauliflower are flowers that haven’t quite opened yet. Some people add flower petals to salads. Roses are used to make tea or jelly. Dandelions can be used to make wine.
But you don’t have to use flowers to enjoy them. Flowers are sometimes nice just for their shape and color or for their sweet smell.
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