Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Roses, my Lord

Once upon a time, in a kingdom of its name Portugal, there was a Queen known by her kindness and good heart. Queen Isabel of Portugal was devoted to the poor and sick. Her generosity was very popular but her husband, a very good ruler, considered charity to be of high cost to the kingdom and forbid her to do so. One day the King – El-Rei D. Dinis, found the Queen in one of her charity actions, giving money and bread to the poor. Afraid of the King’s punishment, Queen Isabel hid the bread in her lap, and the King asked: “Where are you going?”, she said: “I’m going to the monastery to decorate the altars”. Distrustful, the King asks to see what she is bringing in her lap, she replies saying “Roses, my lord”. Not happy with this answer, the King charges the Queen of lying as it was impossible to have roses in January. Therefore, he forced her to open the mantle to show what she was hiding. When she opened the mantle, the most beautiful roses fell from her lap – the hidden bread was turned into roses. The King was speechless and apologized his Queen. The story ran the whole kingdom and Queen Isabel of Portugal was proclaimed Saint by her people, and officially by the Pope 3 centuries later, in 1614. 

El-rei D. Dinis and his Queen, Isabel of Portugal

This legend is still very popular in Portugal and Queen Isabel is still much loved by the Portuguese after all these centuries, so I decided to share this with you. Of course this story is not coming alone without some hard-core botanizing, so make yourselves comfortable and get ready for what really matters!

I must admit that roses are not my type of flower – at least the ornamental roses; but they are an important group for the flower evolution point of view and that is enough to make me want to talk about it!

When talking about roses, maybe most people think about love, romantic stuff, Valentine’s day, maybe gardening or perfumes, but I have to be honest – the first thing crossing my mind is hypanthium. Not very romantic at all, right? But yeah, what is the real meaning of that weeeird word? And why do I think about hypanthia when thinking about roses? 

Roses from QSBG Rose Garden, Thailand
Roses gave the name of one of the most important groups of plants: the Rosids, one of the most successful groups of Angiosperms, representing around 25% of all angiosperm species - that is a big group! Certainly with so many species represented it is not easy to group all characters together, but there is one character that is frequently found and also a key morphological character. That is the hypanthium. The hypanthium is a cup-shaped structure (sometimes tubular) that elevates some floral organs. 

It is basically an elongation of the receptacle of the flower, and this lead to a lot of discussion in terms of the morphology of the flower as well as the naming of floral structures. With the elongation of the receptacle, sepals, petals and stamens are lifted up, and this causes confusion, “Is this a superior or inferior ovary?” Well, usually is neither both – it’s a half-inferior ovary!!

Ovary position related with the origin of the hypanthium
The evolution of this structure is thought to be on the origin of the inferior ovaries, a character found in more derived groups, useful as an extra protection to what really matters – the future babies. So basically the hypanthium is the evolutionary link between inferior and superior ovaries. Cool, uh?


  1. very nice story! and i didn't know it!
    but when you see a rose you think.. hypanthium?
    there's something very wrong with you...

  2. I know, I can't help it - I'm a botanist! =D