Updated 5/12/05.
Lesson Three
Knowing your Flower!
         I remember back when I was young and learned about plants in grade school.  I remember learning that plants had roots, stems, trunks, leaves and flowers.  My concept was at a grade school level.  During Junior High and High School I learned a bit more about the functions of some more particular things like roots hairs, ovaries, and seeds.  Then during college I learned just what these plant parts meant to the plant.  Now, since I am engaged in hybridizing plants I have learned hot to apply these parts of the plants for my benefit in a successful cross.  During this lesson you will learn the more complex parts about your plant, focusing on the beautiful flowers.  Take notes on parts that you feel will help you the most.  Grab a plant that has old and new blooms on it so you can see for yourself what you are learning.  Choose a few flowers that you will be willing to dissect.  This lesson has a flower dissection laboratory.  I hope you enjoy this lesson as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you.  There are a couple of flower dissections in this lesson.  Be prepared to cut off a few flowers. (It might take some mental preparation).flower parts
A special thanks to Rhapsodie Rita for donating her beauty for this lesson.  To the side you will see her demon- strating four different flower parts.  The anther, filament, stigma and style are the first four parts you will learn.  CLICK PHOTO ABOVE TO VIEW LARGER.
       The stamen is the male portion of a flower.  It contains both the anthers and the filaments.  The filament is pretty basic to understand so we will discuss it first.  It is the stem that holds up the anthers (the yellowish balls).  The anthers are the real topic of discussing the stamen.  In order to hybridize we need to be able to take pollen that is produced in the anthers and transfer it to the seed parent.  In order to do this we need to know when the pollen is mature.  FOLLOW DISECTION DIRECTIONS FOR STAMEN (see assignment, left); after you have finished the first dissection return to the next paragraph.
        Part of the difficulty in hybridizing an African Violet is knowing the right time to transfer the pollen.  We have only discussed pollen and not the other half (Stigma)…for now let’s continue discussing the pollen.  Some varieties have a different anther splitting time.  This makes your project even more challenging, yet the opportunity to know your plant better will excel.  It is easiest to pollinate when the anthers are easily releasing pollen.  This is usually about a day after the anther has split.  Keep a journal of some sort with the varieties that you plan to cross, and record daily when your anthers so in fact split.  Some will actually split before the flowers open so take this into account as well.  After about a week of daily log keeping on your anthers, you will have a good idea about the habits of each variety in regards to its anthers and pollen release.
       What is pollen?  You might think of pollen as a small seed.  The life story of pollen is pretty exciting.  After being released from the anther it needs to land on the stigma where it will germinate.  It then will grow a “root” down into the style and ultimately fertilize an egg cell in the ovary by transferring genetic information.  That is a non-technical explanation of pollen.  Now for the technical information.  Pollen is the microgametophyte of a flower.  It is a small dust like grain that contains the male genetic information required for reproduction and ultimately seed formation.  The “root” that grows down the style is called the “pollen-tubule”.  The pollen itself is made up of two or three cells, all surrounded by a cell wall.  One cell is a vegetative cell—and this is the one that germinates and grows the tube, then the other cells are transported down this tube into the ovary.  These cells that are transported are called reproductive cells; they have the genetic information and the ability to transfer it to the egg cell.  Pollen tubes grow at an extremely rapid rate—up to 1 cm/hour has been recorded.  In order for a successful germination and growth of the pollen insure that your plants do not have a calcium deficiency (more on that in a later lesson).
       We will not discuss the actual pollination is this lesson.  You might have thought that I would—ha ha—but you must wait!  You can’t pollinate until you know a little more about your plant.
      Now we need to discuss the stigma, ovary and the style, they are the parts that form the Carpel, or the female part of the plant.  The stigma is found at the tip of the style.  The stigma is a slightly enlarged end.  The style is simply the stem that hooks the stigma to the ovary.  I am going to explain the carpel in relation to an airport.  The stigma is the landing strip, the style is the transporter to the building, and the ovary is the Airport lobby.  The stigma has the responsibility to catch and hold onto the pollen when it lands.  There is a fluid which is produced on the stigma which aids in pollen germination.  This is visible. FOLLOW THE CARPEL DISSECTION (see assignment, left). 
     Now that you have observed your collection I hope that you were able to see flowers at varying ages in their reproductive life cycle.  If not—post any questions you may have in the forum and we can help you.
      Understanding the ovary is a very important part of hybridizing.  The ovary cells will expand, swell, and divide immensely when seed production is underway.  The health of the ovary will insure your success in producing seed. (Ways of achieving this will be discussed in another lesson).  This lesson is to familiarize you with the reproductive parts of the flower or the anatomy.  I have discussed some of the physiology to help you along in this lesson.
       For the next part of this lesson we are going to examine the peduncle of the plant.  The peduncle is the flower stem.  The peduncle is an important sign of knowing the health of your flower.  Firm, thick peduncles will assure you that your flower on that peduncle is a healthy one.  Observe the peduncles on your plants, many varieties have thick peduncles; some have thin and leggy peduncles.  Get to know your plants a little better yet again by identifying the behavior of the peduncles on your plants.  Later one, when you do hybridize, we will be watching for signs that our peduncles can demonstrate if our pollination was a success.  We discussed peduncles in another lesson, but I wanted to reiterate the peduncle again.  Also, examine the number of flowers per stem on the peduncle yet again.  Notice if any of the flowers are larger or healthier on the peduncle.  If so which ones are they?  Lets say I have a variety that has 4 flowers per peduncle; I have noticed that the lower two exhibit a larger ovary then the upper two relative to being the same age.  When hybridizing I would want to use the lower two flowers instead of the top two as they are getting more energy from the plant.  Observe if this is true in some of your varieties.  How can the peduncle help you determine the health of your flower, made from observations in your own collection?
        This is the end of this lesson.  Please observe the reproductive parts of your African Violet and report what you have seen in you own collection.  Many others will learn from what information you provide.  If you have any questions feel free to post to the forum. 
~~ Ryan Ferre

asstrixLesson One
asstrixLesson Two
asstrixLesson Three
asstrixClass Discussion
Lesson Three Assignment:

 Pick a flower that is a few days away from opening up from a single flower (DO NOT USE DOUBLE OR SEMI-DOUBLES FOR THIS DISSECTION).  Yes, I want you to remove it from the plant (you are learning so it’s OK!).  The reason why I do not want you to use a double in this dissection is many doubles lack the male parts of the flower; they have turned these male parts into additional petals.  On some flowers you can see the filament and the anther have turned into a weird petal.  You can also look at semi doubles and see this a little better as a slightly extra credit portion of the dissection.  You will carefully pull off the flower petal one at a time to expose the inner most flower parts.  You will be able to see the male and female parts inside the petals.  You need to examine the anthers on this flower.  These anthers are not ready to release their pollen and have not yet split.  Compare them with an open flower (you don’t have to pick the open flower).  The purpose of this first dissection is to show you a comparison between a ripe anther and an immature anther.  Once you have been able to see a notable difference between the two set your dissected flower aside until another dissection later on.       
asstrix Question:   Describe the shape difference between an immature anther and a mature anther.  In your own words describe how you can tell when it has split to release its pollen.  Why can’t we use doubles as a pollen parent?  How can we use doubles as a pollen parent? (I will answer this one for you—Sometimes we can get a single flower on a double plant—you can effectively use this pollen.  It is fertile in most cases and still holds the genes for a double plant!  This means you can in fact cross a double with a double.  But—it is difficult to find a single flower on a double plant.  The anther must be a completely developed one in order to use it.  The fact that this only happens occasionally is the reason why you often hear “You can’t use a double as a pollen parent”—In plants, never says never!)
Now that you already have a flower that is torn apart (from the first dissection) —carefully remove the male parts, or the Stamens.  You should be left with just the female parts or the Carpel of the flower.  Carefully examine the shapes, and different parts of the carpel.  Identify the Stigma (This is the very point of the style; it is round and slightly open and wide).  If you have a magnifying glass, examine the stigma and notice its shape.  Since we have been playing with this flower, I would doubt if any of this fluid remains on the stigma.  Now I want you to look over your entire AV collection and see if you can find a stigma that is shiny and filled with liquid like substance.  This is the fluid you will want to look for, in order to help assure a good pollen transfer.  Now I want you to look at the base of the style, this enlarged area contains the ovary.  This is where seed production will occur if the pollination is successful.  You will want to be able to recognize and enlarged ovary (this signifies that the pollination was a success).  Look at the ovary and examine its size and shape.  Look inside some more flowers in your collection and see if the ovary size and shape differs among flowers of about the same age.  It will be important to know each variety and how its ovary looks, this will assure that you know when pollination has taken place, and when seed production has began. 
asstrix Question:  What does a stigma, which is ready for fertilization, look like?  How can you tell if a stigma is past due (will not accept fertilization any longer)? (I would like an explanation of what you are observing on your plants—on how the stigmas age—like drying up—changing color—etc etc etc—this will vary depending on the variety)

copyright 2005 by Ryan  Ferre