Saturday, April 23, 2016

Botany for Hikers: Sepals

This is the first in a series on botany to help fellow hikers (or anyone) learn how to identify plants. I don't have a degree in botany, just a basic working knowledge. I'm attempting to convey information here in a way that others can understand and remember it and use it to learn more about the plants the see around them.

I am going to start with some simple plant terminology. I find that knowing these terms helps immensely both with reading guidebooks and with remembering and noting what you see when you look at a plant. If you have a word available in your head like "ovate" or "palmate" or "entire margins," it seems to me to be easier to remember those traits about the plant in order to look them up.

This post is on a part of the plant called the sepals. They often look like leafy parts around the base of the flower:

The sepals are visible here, around the base of the violet. They are the green part, and kind of look like the collar around Kermit the Frog's neck if you know what I mean.

Here, the sepals are just below the petals.

Every now and again, the sepals have important traits that help in identifying a particular flower. Together, all of the sepals are called the "calyx." Usually, they look leafy, but every so often they actually look like flower petals. My favorite example of this is in a flower called larkspur:

Scarlet Larkspur
Scarlet Larkspur

It is a hellish hike to get to this Scarlet Larkspur every June, but it's so worth it! If you look at the red "petals" sticking out on this flower, they are actually the sepals pretending to be petals. Toward the center, you can see the actual petals, also red, sticking out forward around the male and female bits of the flower. You can see in the photo below how the red sepals stick out like petals typically would, and then there are petals within the sepals that extend forward:

Scarlet Larkspurs

There is one other variation to note. Sometimes the sepals and petals are really one and the same. In that case, they are called "tepals."

Chaparral Yucca
Chaparral yucca, Hesperoyucca whipplei

Chaparral Yucca
Close up of Chaparral yucca flowers

That is the case on the Chaparral yucca above. Each flower has six tepals. All six are identical and you cannot differentiate them into petals and sepals.

If you like my flower photography, I am now selling it on Etsy.

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