Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

The Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois

Prairie Plant Terminology — Flowers

Flowers are special to humans. We visit prairies and forests to see them grow wild, we cultivate them in our yards and homes, we give them to others to show we care. Yet why do plants make flowers? Flowers are the reproductive parts of a plant. After the flowers are pollinated, fruits are produced, and inside the fruits are the seeds that ensure future generations.

Flowers are arranged together into flower clusters, or inflorescences. There are four basic parts of a flower. The sepals are the outermost part of the flower and are commonly green and leaf-like in texture, although in some species they are colored and petal-like. Collectively, the sepals are called the calyx. The petals are positioned inward from the sepals and are commonly colored and delicate in texture. Petals usually attract pollinators to the flower. Collectively, the petals are called the corolla, and the sepals and petals together are called theperianth. The stamens are inward from the petals and are the "male" reproductive parts of the flower. A stamen usually consists of the anther,which contains the pollen, and a stalk called the filament. Collectively, the stamens are called the androecium. The pistil occupies the central position in a flower and is the "female" reproductive part. It consists of a terminal stigma, which is often sticky, the function of which is to receive the pollen; a style; and at the base, an ovary, which contains one or more ovules. Collectively, all the pistils in one flower are called the gynoecium.


fruit is the ripened ovary of a flower, and a seed is the matured ovule. In many prairie plants, what at first appears to be a "seed" is in fact a whole fruit that contains a single seed; these are usually a fruit type called an achene. Another fruit type is a capsule, which splits open to release the several to many seeds.


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