I started writing some blog posts about each flower I’ve cut from my 100 Flowers Project. I’m a learner, so I enjoy learning about the flowers I’m drawing and cutting out of paper, and I hope you do too. However, to understand and learn about flowers, I found myself on a long tangent into biological taxonomy (that is, classification and naming). It’s important to understand some basic biological terms like "family," "genus," and "species," as well as a rudimentary understanding of how biological classification works in order to appreciate the nuances between different flower species. This is typical high school biology stuff, but if your like me, you may not remember it. So here’s a short refresher on some basic biology concepts that will be relevant in upcoming posts on flowers from my 100 Flowers Project. Hope it helps you follow along and learn something new!
Remember Back to High School Biology
In biology, organisms are classified into groups called “taxa” and each group is given a rank, creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The major ranks, from largest group to smallest group, are: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. Now, this classification isn’t perfect, because organisms were first classified on traits and physical features, before anything about genetics and DNA structures were discovered. The taxonomic hierarchy still mostly relies on traits and physical features, although genetic traits are now being utilized to add to the classification system to create a phylogenic evolutionary tree. However, it’s still tricky because genetics are surprising. Two species of organisms that look nothin alike can actually be very closely related to each other by their DNA sequencing. For example, humans actually share about 50% of the same DNA structure as bananas, but we look (and act) nothing like bananas. When that happens, where do you place these species on an evolutionary tree? How do you classify their relationship? What is their common ancestor? These are questions that biological researchers under the sub-discipline of biological taxonomy try to answer.
The main take-away is that most of the common flower names you know are actually the name of a family or genus of flowers, rather than an individual species. In other words, your average flower-admirer or gardener actually refers to several different types of species of flowers when they use the family or genus name. Mostly, the various species will look very similar to each other, and no one except maybe a stickler for correctness or a biologist will care which exact species of flower they are looking at and will be content with either the common flower name or the family or genus name. And because biological taxonomy is continually being re-defined, especially with new DNA research, a particular species of flower may change families or genera from a previous classification.
Type Species and Hybrids
Each genus of species has a "type species" which is simply the species for which the genus is named after. However, there may be a few or many other species under a specific genus. In the flower world, many of these different species of flowers under the same genus often hybridize readily with each other. In other words, these different species cross-breed (or in this case, cross-pollinate) with each other, creating many new species and variations of a particular flower. Sometimes hybridization can happen in nature, but most flowers and vegetables grown today are actually hybrids of their original wild form. This has been done intentionally by a gardeners and farmers in order to develop particularly desirable qualities. For example, hybrids are developed for disease resistance, size of plant, increased flowering, color, or any other quality or trait considered desirable.
Most garden-variety flowers now-a-days are actually a hybrid. Which again, makes identify a species particularly difficult. This is why, for your average non-biologist, simply using the genus or family name for a particular flower is “good enough.” Although, for gardeners looking for a particular look or color of flower, identifying each cultivar or hybrid of flower can be useful.
What I’m Looking Up for Each Flower
As I make my way through my 100 Flowers Project, I’ll be looking up a bit of information on each flower. I choose my flower reference images to draw from purely based on aesthetics, so I’m not really paying attention to which species of flower it is or which cultivar or hybrid it is. Therefore, I won’t be able to necessarily identify exactly each species of flower I’m making, but instead will continue with the common names I have in my list. However, I’ll make a note of some of the different species that exist as I learn about each flower. I’ll make note of some of the relevant biological taxonomy and include anything of interest, such as where a type of flower originated from. For anyone who likes to garden, I’ll also include some basic gardening information if you want to try planting one of these groups of flowers.
I hope this little primer helps you remember some basic high school biology and therefore appreciate what we learn together as I post about each flower I make a papercut of. Looking forward to learning with you!