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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Deadheading flowers: musings

I'm going to muse about the topic of deadheading. Read on, if you wish.

My wife has a flower garden. She has a number of flowering plants in it. Generally, it's beautiful, especially when there are several flowers of various types showing themselves.

One practice that she has adopted (and I help with, or do) is deadheading. We cut off, or pull off, flowers that are past their peak, in hope that that plant will produce new flowers, more than it would have otherwise produced. My wife also thinks that removing flowers that have withered, or turned into fruits, makes the flower garden more beautiful. Many flower gardeners agree.

Scientists, and gardeners, have discovered that some kinds of plants will, indeed, produce more flowers if deadheaded, but that some won't.

Why does deadheading work? I have done a little searching, and not come up with a clear answer. My guess is that the flowering heads of some plants send chemical signals back to parts of the plant below them, which signals inhibit further flowering. When the flowering head is removed, the plant causes new flowers to develop. This would be similar to the way in which auxin, perhaps the best-understood plant hormone, inhibits the growth of parts of the plant below terminal buds, a phenomenon known as apical dominance. Most small trees have numerous buds along their stems, but only some of them grow into twigs and branches, and, generally, those buds that do have to be some distance from the terminal bud at the tip of the stem. This effect of auxin is a major influence on the way some plants are shaped as they grow. Apparently, such systems are not found in all types of plants, for flowering, but, probably, they are in some plants.

We don't know everything. One reason that we don't know as much as we would like to about flowering is that scientists still have not clearly identified the flowering hormone, or hormones. (Florigen is the name for such hypothesized hormones.) Not for lack of trying. A chemical called Flowering Locus T, or FT, is likely to be one of the flowering hormones, but almost certainly, there are several, with different roles in the flowering process.

Why is flowering important? Why should taxpayer dollars be spent on research on flowering? There are good answers. Flowers are beautiful. We should preserve and honor beauty for its own sake, and because it is part of the way God's goodness is expressed in the world. Also, flowers are a commercial product, so people make their living from them. A great deal of the food we eat would not exist without flowers. Think of the citrus fruits, of the Rose family (apples, strawberries, pears, peaches, almonds, and many more) of melons of all kinds, of squashes, of beans, peas, peanuts and their relatives, of tomatoes and peppers, to name a few.* Most of us can recognize some of these plants by their flowers, which are often quite prominent. We eat the fruit of these plants, which wouldn't exist without their flowers. (To botanist, a fruit is a ripened flower part, so that we eat bean fruit, even though it's commonly called a vegetable.) The more we can learn about flowering, the more likely we are to be able to continue to feed ourselves well.

Two lessons from deadheading
While deadheading recently, it occurred to me that I often forget the beauty of the flowers around me, in full bloom, while I look for the withered and less beautiful ones. That's a mistake! Similarly, I should concentrate on the good in my life, and put the bad, what little there is, in its proper place.

Jesus didn't speak of deadheading, but He did mention pruning, in a passage in John 15. I need to have the rotten, messy stuff taken out of me -- the parts that are unlike Christ. Why? So that, as my life resembles His more and more, I can bring help in the conversion and discipling of new Christ-followers, and so I can manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

Thanks for reading. Go and deadhead some plants, or seek pruning from God.

*The most important food plants are members of the grass family, corn or maize, rice and wheat. I'm not sure if the same flowering hormones that work on, say, roses, work on grasses, or not. I've never heard of deadheading such plants!


Keetha Broyles said...

Wondering if Day Lilies benefit from deadheading?

Martin LaBar said...

I don't think so, but my wife likes them to be deadheaded, anyway, because she doesn't like the old ones hanging on next to the new flowers. She doesn't think it helps them to flower more.

Martin LaBar said...

Actually, Marian St. Clair, in today's Greenville News, says that deadheading day lilies means that the plant isn't spending resources on producing fruit, so may flower more next year.

Thanks, Keetha.