n your plant
studies, especially when using identification keys, time and again you'll be asked about
details of flower anatomy that can only be found out by tearing blossoms apart. Are the
stamens "diadelphous" or "syngenesious"? Are the ovules' placentae
"parietal" or "basal"? With large blossoms sometimes these details can
be seen by breaking things apart with a thumbnail. However, with smaller flowers -- the
majority of blossoms we're likely to meet -- we must be more expert. Here are instruments
needed in a simple flower-dissecting kit which can be carried with you in a small bag or
- A sharp blade, for slicing. A very sharp pocketknife may do, but even better is
one of these cardboard-box openers consisting of a razor-sharp blade that, when not in
use, swivels into its handle. It's good to have one like in the picture, where the blade
swivels into the handle and locks.
- A needle-tipped probe, for doing such delicate work as flipping a stamen's anther
to see whether it empties pollen through slits or pores, or to cut a "window"
into a blossom's corolla tube, to see the stamens inside. A typical probe consists of a
needle on a stick, which you can make yourself.
- A ruler, for measuring things. Especially when working with
identification keys you are often asked whether an item is, for example, "5 mm or
less, or 7 mm or more" in length. At such times the item nearly always strikes you as
seeming exactly 6 mm in length. That's when a small ruler with very fine marks comes in
- A dental pick is nice to have. Sometimes the curved, sharp blade is
just the thing for slicing corolla tubes or for reaching into hard-to-get-to places. If
you know a dentist, he or she may gladly give you old instruments no longer sharp enough
for using on teeth.
- Tweezers can be useful for plucking stamens from a blossom's throat or removing
spines from fingers that have been poked in the wrong places.
- A mechanical pencil for writing down your measurements, crossing off
species you eliminate as you key your discovery, or chewing on when you run into something
like the diadelphous or syngenesious stamens...