Nothing in Nature Bloom All-Year

Flowering is a much-anticipated event particularly during Spring. It is religiously celebrated in some countries such as Japan. Tourists from around the globe travel to Japan to celebrate Hanami, i.e. the cherry blossom (Sakura) festival and appreciate the blossom. However, plants develop flowers not for our benefit and adoration but to continue their next generations.

Plants first appear on earth as non-flowering or gymnosperms. These includes all the ferns, pines, Cycad and Gingko. Their reproductive organs are somewhat primitive, some plants producing seeds, some just spores. At this point, they were not termed as flowers. The first emergence of flowers was thought to be during the Triassic period. Morphological studies suggest that the sepal and petal evolved from leaves, but there was more evidence that floral primordia developed independently and is genetically controlled.

Flowering itself is an expensive process for the plants. In an optimum environment, when there is optimum light, humidity and nutrients, plants conserve their energy and food storage by not developing flowers. For a plant, when it is healthy it’s not necessary to produce flowers and seeds to continue the next generation. However, when subjected to a stress environment such as lack of water and nutrients, hormones in the plant send signals for floral bud induction. That way if the plant doesn’t survive they can at lease disperse their seeds to continue sustaining the population. But what if the seeds do not survive? Plants have evolved over millions of years to design their seed structures in many forms to suit their environment to ensure they will have successful seed dispersal. The architectural structure of grass flower has been modified to go without sepals and petals, reduced to a minute structure that sits on a complex inflorescence that makes the seeds, once pollinated is light enough to be carried away by wind. It is also by wind that pollens were carried across for pollination. As for bulky seeds, ones that are large and juicy, they developed vibrant peel colours to entice animals to consume them, carry their seeds and dispose their seeds somewhere else. Or, if they are lucky, drop their matured fruits in a stream or river. To date, there are many reports on how a plant will continue to disperse their seeds. And if they cannot produce flowers and seeds, then they can spread through vegetative propagules.

One must be patient in waiting for a plant to bloom. From the beginning of seed emergence to the first floral bud, plant has to assimilate all the elements needed for growth and used these elements to build the building blocks of the plant architecture, which is usually the vegetative organs first. When all of this is completed, with the optimum light, temperature and stress, plant will then slowly develop the floral primordia. In a sense, a plant will flower when they are ready or stressed. The two main factors that affects flowering would be day length or photoperiod. The amount of light received is also followed by change in temperature. How sensitive are plants to light and temperature? Very. The exposure to long and low temperature during winter is one of the onsets for flowering that occurs in spring. But, as the earth is starting to get warmer, we now see erratic flowering season or none.

So, can we force a plant to flower? Of course, we can, but at a cost of technology. Biotechnologists have succeeded to induced flowering in vitro i.e. in a glass jar. These plants were grown from vegetative organs and was given the accurate amount of nutrient, light, moisture and growth hormones. This is somehow, difficult (or impossible) in nature. So, lets allow nature to take its course; leave it to nature. Nature has provided the most perfect environment for a plant to flower hence, it is our responsibility to conserve and sustain the environment for plants to thrive.

On a smaller scale, how to maintain bloom in our gardens? Give them the optimum conditions, and a little bit of tender loving care will go far. The saying “absence makes a heart grows fonder” best describes our anticipation for the next bloom in Spring.