Family activity: How to dissect a flower and understand what’s inside

Flowers are fascinating! Take a look more closely and find out what makes a flower.

There are about 300,000 different species (or types) of flowering plant on earth. They can look very different – from the familiar daisies in your lawn, to the tiny green flowers of grasses in our meadows, or the monstrous rafflesia whose carnivorous 1m wide flowers bloom in the forests of south-east Asia.

Why do plants need flowers?

While flowering plants look and behave very differently they all flower for the same reason – to produce seeds which will grow into new plants, ensuring the species continues to survive.

Find out you how you can dissect (take apart to see what’s inside) a flower yourself to discover its secrets.

To dissect a flower, you will need: 

You can dissect a flower in your garden with just your fingers to pick it apart, but if you want to be a bit more scientific and take a careful look at things, here are some tools that you can use to help.

Equipment to dissect a flower

Clockwise from bottom left:

  • cutting board;
  • small kitchen knife or craft knife;
  • scissors;
  • tweezers;
  • magnifying glass or clip on phone macro lens;
  • flower;
  • parts of a flower sheet; (if you've got a printer you can click on the link and print it out, otherwise use a plain piece of paper and add your own labels)
  • plain card/paper/tray to work on

For this dissection we’ve used a Spanish bluebell flower. Other flowers that are good to practice your dissection on include daffodils, geraniums, tulips, crocus and poppies.

Please remember to check with the gardener first!

BE CAREFUL! If you are using a knife to cut open your flower make sure you have an adult to help, and a safe surface to cut on. Many flowers are toxic, so make sure you wash your hands and any equipment you’ve used really well with soap and water when you have finished dissecting.

How to dissect a flower

Step 1

Carefully snip your flower off the main plant using the scissors, make sure you include some stem so you don’t accidentally cut off part of the flower. Take a close look at the outside of the flower.

How to dissect a flower

When the flower was still developing it was protected inside the sepals – when you see a flower bud the sepals are the layer of material wrapped around it. The sepals peel back when the flower opens. Sometimes they then drop off so depending on your flower you might not see them. The petals are often brightly coloured to attract insects to visit the flower. The stem is strong and has the job of holding the flower up.

How to dissect a flower

Step 2

Gently peel away a few of the petals, taking care not to damage the inside of the flower. Now you can see inside the flower. The Spanish bluebell has both male and female parts inside each flower. Can you find the male stamen and the female pistil?

Some plants have their male and female parts in separate flowers on the same plant (like a hazel tree which has dangly male flowers called catkins and tiny pink star shaped female flowers). Others have separate male and female individuals (like holly trees – both sexes have little cream coloured flowers but only the female trees develop berries).

How to dissect a flower

Step 3

The male part of the flower is called the stamen, and the stamen is made up of a few different structures. Using your fingers or tweezers if you have them carefully pull off one of the stamen – there will be lots of them sticking up around the inside edge of the petals.

The long filament holds the anther up into the air, and the anther is where the pollen grains are held. The pollen is important as it carries the information from the male part of the plant that is needed by the female part to make a seed.

Pollen grains can be carried from the anther to the female parts of the plant (or another plant of the same species) by the wind or by an animal, often a bee or a butterfly. Animals that carry pollen are called pollinators. Pollen grains are tiny and often sticky so they will attach to the pollinator’s body.

Try touching the pollen very gently – does it stick to your finger?

How to dissect a flower

Step 4

Carefully peel away the rest of the stamen to leave the middle of the flower – this is the female part. It is called the pistil. The pistil is made up of a few different structures each with its own job.

The top of the pistil is the stigma. This is the place where pollen grains land. The stigma is held up by the tall style which connects the stigma to the ovary. Just like in animals the ovary is the place where unfertilised eggs are stored. These eggs are called ovules.

How to dissect a flower

Step 5

Using a knife (carefully!) or your finger nail split the ovary open. Look closely and you will see the tiny round ovules packed inside.

When a pollen grain lands on the stigma a pollen tube grows from the grain down through the style to the ovary where the pollen grain can join with an ovule to make a seed. This is called fertilisation.

If the flower you are using is old and has already been fertilised you may be able to spot seeds forming in the ovary. These seeds will contain information from both the male and female parts of a plant and will grow into new plants with flowers of their own.

How to dissect a flower

Step 6

Take all the parts of the flower you have dissected and organise them on the printable sheet. Or arrange them on a blank piece of paper and write on labels to show which bit of the flower is which.

 

Congratulations. Now you are a flower expert!

Flowers attract butterflies to gardens. Why not make a butterfly feeder and see which butterflies visit you!

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