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The three B's - Complex Flowers

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

This is the second part of our series on understanding the anatomy of the plant you would like to paint.

In this article we will focus on complex flowers "Asteraceae" which includes daisies, sunflowers and asters. We hope you enjoyed the accompanying online broadcast and look out for our next session in a few weeks time. This is of course dependent on what is flowering.

For those members who missed the "live" session here is a link to the recorded version on the ABBA YouTube Channel.

Episode 2. Complex Flowers

If you have a few minutes it may be useful to view the broadcast first and then dive into this piece or the other way round. While you are there subscribe to the ABBA YouTube Channel and get notification when a new video is added.

The Three B's... Complex Flowers

In this second session we are going to look at the daisy family and it's clear from the title that the flower we are looking at today is not simple. These are plants that people often want to illustrate but are put off by the seeming complexity of their structure. Understanding how parts fit together makes it easier to produce an accurate image.

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Leucanthemum

Species: L. vulgare

Common names: Ox-Eye daisy, dog daisy, field daisy, moon daisy, moon-penny, poor-land penny, poverty daisy and white daisy

The name Leucanthemum derives from the Greek words – leukos ("white") and – anthemon ("flower").

Figure 1. Ox Eye daisy in a field near Cambridge.

The beautiful white flowers of the Ox-Eye daisy adorn our verges and make a beautiful sight amongst red poppies, white and red Campion and native grasses. However, outside of its native habitat of Europe, Turkey and Georgia it can be considered as an invasive species. Ox-eye daisy spreads by seeds and by shallow, creeping rhizomes so can be hard to eradicate once established. Those in the garden are quite invasive but so beautiful they are soon forgiven.

The flat open structure makes them an ideal food source for insects and they are visited by bees, pollen beetles and other small insects. When viewed from above as shown in Figure 2, you can see the complex arrangement of the parts that make up the flower head, particularly the spiral whorls feeding off the centre which is a characteristic of the early stages of development of the flower.

Figure 2. Ox Eye daisy from above showing distictive whorls around the centre.

When you look closely as shown in a partially dissected specimen (Figure 3) the flowers in this family are are not just single flowers but a bunch of numerous tiny flowers, termed florets, grouped together like pins on a pincushion. The florets are attached to a structure known as the receptacle and the two combined with the bracts underneath are termed a capitulum. Each capitulum is situated on the end of a flower stalk, the pedicel.

The florets can be further divided into two different types:

  • tubular disc florets (the yellow florets in Figure 3)

  • ray florets (white) attached the the outer edges of the receptacle

Flowers within the family may have:

  • a mix of floret types

  • all ray florets

  • all tubular disc florets

Figure 3. Section across the Ox Eye daisy showing basic parts of the flower head.

A floret is made up of an an inferior ovary as the flower parts are arranged above the ovary, five petals joined to form a petal tube and a tube of five anthers surrounding the style capped with two stigmas as shown in Figure 4. In this figure the florets A and B are typical of the Ox-Eye daisy while the floret C, shows the addition of a pappus which is formed from modified sepals. This structure is important for wind dispersal since it acts like a parachute. Think about a dandilion!

The fertilised ovary develops into a striking ten ribbed seed and upto 26,000 seeds can be dispersed from any one plant.

Figure 4. Typical florets of the Asteraceae. A disc floret. B - ray floret and C disc floret showing pappus found in other species but not the Ox-Eye daisy.

Figure 5. Showing the underside of the flower head and the bracts.

At the top of the stem underneath the base of the receptacle are a cup shaped structure known as the Involucre which is made up of green bracts. These are tipped with deep purplish-brown as shown in Figure 5.

In the video that accompanies this blog you can follow the complete dissection of this complex flower which will give you a good understanding of how this plant is constructed. Lets just say a little bit of reverse engineering. If you do this for all the plants you would like to paint then the parts can then be photographed and added to your sketchbook with the appropriate notes.

Figure 6. Dissected parts of the Ox-Eye daisy laid out as they are removed from the plant. Note the scale for accuracy.

Understanding how the flower is put together is the first step in producing a great piece of artwork that is botanically accurate. Sounds like botanical art to me.

Hope this has been of use and don't forget to look at the accompanying video which has some interesting ideas on how to work with an exploded view of the parts of a plant to produce a nice composition.

Drawing tips

  1. Always ensure that the midline of the flower stem passes through the centre of the flower head.

  2. As daisies are domes of florets remember to check that all the flower heads in your illustration are depicted so that whatever their orientation they still accurately reflect that shape.

  3. If you are struggling to understand the three dimensional shape make a flower head out of blu-tac and stick it on a pipe cleaner. Then bend it in all directions and see what the shape should look like.

  4. Make accurate measurements, dividers are useful for this.

ABBA YouTube Channel - Episode 2. Complex Flowers

Elaine Allison

June 2020


Michael Hickey and Clive King; The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms, 2000, Cambridge University Press ISBN: 978-0-521-79401-5

Michael Hickey and Clive King; Common Families of Flowering Plants; 1997, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0-521-57609-1

A.R. Clapham, T.G.Tutin and E.F Warburg; Flora of British Isles, Second Edition, 1962, Cambridge at the University Press.

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