Friday, February 4, 2011

The annual daisy

The annual daisy is a small flowering plant with a typical daisy structure consisting of several white petals surrounding many small yellow florets. It is a common plant which can be found in various habitats especially in damp humid places throughout the Mediterranean flowering from November to March.

 In Maltese it is known as bebuna.

The closely related southern daisy, margerita salvaġġa in Maltese, is larger and flowers in autumn and winter. These two species are very similar and difficult to tell apart unless one looked carefully at the whole structure of the plant especially the leaves.

The two species belong to the aster family which also known as the daisy or sunflower family. This is the largest family of flowering plants consisting of more than 23,000 species. 

The asters are found throughout the world but they are most common in cooler regions.

Their most characteristic feature is the shape of the inflorescence which is often mistaken for a single flower as it consists of a dense cluster surrounded by large petals. 

The inflorescence consists of two types of flowers. In the centre one finds several small flowers with five small petals which form a tube. At the outer side of the circle there are similar flowers each of which has a large petal. Together these flowers give rise to the daisy shaped flowering head that characterises these flowers.

In this large family we find many important species. Many are cultivated commercially and are important agricultural crops. Among these we find the lettuce, globe artichokes, and Jerusalem artichokes. Another important species is the chamomile. The pot marigold is grown for herbal tea and the potpourri industry. 

This article was published in The Times on 05.01.11

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