When is a flower not a flower?

Many trees are full of showy flowers at this time of year. A close look at these flowers can be quite rewarding. Flowering dogwood is one of our most popular flowering trees, but those beautiful white blossoms hide a secret. Take a close look at a dogwood tree and you will see that the showy white "petals" are not actually petals. Instead, these are white bracts that direct the attention of a pollinator - bee or moth - to the center. Now look at the center and you will see a cluster of tiny green flowers.

Each of these tiny green flowers is a "perfect" flower, containing both male and female organs. Pollinators are attracted by the showy bracts, but it is the tiny flower that is pollinated. Soon, you will see a cluster of small fruits developing, though dogwood usually loses all but a few fruits before they ripen.

Trees are huge and easy to look at from a distance, but they also reward a closer look.

flowering dogwood inflorescence
Inflorescence of flowering dogwood. The white bracts (not petals) surround a cluster of flowers
Flowering dogwood inflorescence
Flowering dogwood inflorescence. The arrow points to a single flower