Flower petals come in a variety of shapes, from the saucer-shaped petals of the Buxton’s Blue geranium to the tongue-like labiate petals of the Texas sage flower.
Some are tightly closed, like those on the Cape honeysuckle, and only relatively strong insects, like bees, can force their way through them to access the nectar within the flower. Perhaps the most commonly recognized flower shape, that of the sunflower and Black-Eyed Susan, is the composite flower shape. The petals on a single composite flower actually belong to hundreds of flowers on one stem.Flower petals are typically perfumed and brightly colored. They serve as a kind of billboard for insects and birds, advertising that nectar is available within the flower and encouraging pollinators to engage in the process of cross-pollination. A lesser-known fact about petals is that the full array of them is called a corolla, which means “little crown” in Latin.
One thing many people notice about petals is their tiny veins. These veins are intricate, tube-like tissues called xylem and phloem, and they also appear in the flower’s leaves and stem. The xylem and phloem distribute water and other nutrients throughout the flower.
Petals also contain very small holes, or stomata, that are more difficult to spot with the naked eye. Water evaporates through these stomata, signaling to the xylem and phloem that they can extract more water from the roots.
Humans have found many uses for flower petals. Pressing them extracts the oils that lie within; this oil can then be used to make colognes, lotions and soaps. They can be dried and mixed with other fragrant items, such as bark and cinnamon sticks, to create potpourri that freshens the scent of a room. When mashed and rolled into balls, they can become beads for jewelry. They can also add flavor to many foods, including sweet confections like cakes and French macarons as well as savory dishes like salads.
Flower petals typically play an important role in Western matrimonial ceremonies, where a young girl will scatter a basket full of petals along the center isle of the wedding venue to create a lovely, elegant path for the bride to follow to the altar.