A question widely asked (often in exams) is “are sunflowers monocots or dicots?”.
Does this question, and the thought of trying to work out if a flower is a monocot or a dicot strike fear into your heart?
Then it needn’t do, because actually, it is a lot simpler than you might think as I am about to demonstrate.
There are a few things that distinguish the two groups of plants, and they are actually remarkably easy to understand.
So let’s take a look at them and find out if the sunflower is a monocot or dicot.
Are Sunflowers Monocots or Dicots?
The sunflower is a dicot. This is because in its early stages of germination you will see two seed leaves sprouting through the soil. Dicots sprout two seed leaves, whereas monocuts sprout one seed leaf. You will also notice it has petals in multiples of four or five which is indicative of a dicot, whereas monocots have petals in multiples of three.
Monocots and Dicots Explained
Before we delve into the question of whether sunflowers are monocots or dicots, it is important to understand a bit more about these two groups.
It will also be helpful in the future for identifying plants, as almost all flowering plants fall into one of these groups and are either monocots or dicots.
The names of these groups give us a hint at one of the main attributes of the plants that fall within them.
The word ‘mono’ is derived from Greek, where it means one or single. Think of words like monorail, monocle, monopoly, and monarchy.
The word ‘di’ means two or double. Think of words like divide, dialogue, and dilemma.
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In terms of monocots and dicots (abbreviations of monocotyledon and dicotyledon), the prefix refers to the number of cotyledons the plant produces.
Cotyledons are the first leaves sprouted by plants. They are part of the seed or embryo of the plant and are not recognized as true leaves, but are instead referred to as ‘seed leaves’.
So monocots are seeds that sprout just one seed leaf, and dicots are seeds that sprout two seed leaves.
How Else Can You Tell Monocots and Dicots Apart?
Obviously, we might not always see the first leaves sprouted by a plant, but thankfully there are several other ways to tell monocots and dicots apart.
They are outlined in the excellent video above but as an overview:
- Flowers: Monocots usually have petals in multiples of three. Dicots have petals in multiples of four or five.
- Leaves: Monocots tend to have veins that run parallel to each other. Dicots have veins that branch from the center of the leaf, like a net.
- Roots: Monocots have fibrous, spreading roots known as adventitious roots. Dicots usually have tap roots.
- Stems: If you look at a cross-section of a monocot stem the vascular bundles are spread throughout. In dicots they run around the outside of the stem.
If you want some real-life examples, then…
- Monocots include: corn, maize, rice, lilies, the grass species such as bamboo, the palm family such as coconut and oil palm and other species such as tulips, rushes and crocus.
- Dicots include: daisies, petunias, dahlias, magnolias, oaks, maples, many vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, weeds, nettles and dandelions.
So the question remains…
Sunflower: Monocot or Dicot?
The sunflower is a dicot plant. If you plant a sunflower seed and study it as it germinates, you will notice that it has two seed leaves, classifying it as a dicot.
Also if you look at the veins and count the number of leaves etc as mentioned above you will see it also fits into the dicot category.
How the sunflower (or in fact any plant) came to become a dicot, is all about evolution.
Hundreds of million years ago all plants began to develop from a monocotyledonous ancestor, then at one point, a species diverged from the original monocot that had two cotyledons. This plant was the first dicot.
This split between monocots and dicots is believed to have occurred around 200 million years ago.
From then on offspring continue to evolve from the monocots inheriting all of their traits and, in the same way, species descended from the original dicot, inheriting all of its traits, right up to the present day.
The sunflower family is thought to have evolved in the late Cretaceous Period, which places its origins way back around 68 million years ago.
This was a good three million years before dinosaurs became extinct.
That is why the plant can be found in all corners of the globe, it has had almost 70 million years to spread its wares!
What Are Angiosperms?
Essentially angiosperms are any plants with flowers. All angiosperms are either monocot or dicot. Along with gymnosperms these are the two main categories of plant.
Thus we can deduce from this that the sunflower is an angiosperm.
Angiosperms have seeds enclosed within their fruit, while gymnosperms don’t have any flowers or fruits and have their seeds on the surface of their leaves.
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Examples of gymnosperms include cypress, spruce, redwood, juniper and fir.
Other differences between the two categories of plants are:
- Gymnosperms are evergreen, angiosperms are seasonal.
- Gymnosperms seeds are dispersed by the wind, angiosperms seeds are spread by animals or insects
- Gymnosperms have scale-like or needle-like leaves, angiosperms have flat leaves.
So, as you can see, the sunflower is most definitely a dicot.
It is in good company too, there are around 175,000 known species of dicot in the world, in comparison to an estimated 60,000 species of monocots.
Remember pretty much all flowering plants in the world are either monocots or dicots. It then comes down to working out which category the plant falls into.
You can do this by examining the flowers, leaves, roots, stems or cotyledons of the plant.
Or falling that, by typing your question into Google!