The word comes from Latin – separatus “separate” + petalum “petal”.
What is it?
In Angiosperms (flowering plants) the sepal is a modified leaf found on the outermost part of the flower. They are usually green and therefore more likely to be confused with leaves. They are also often covered with tiny hairs. Sepals can be long or short, thick or thin, fused together or separated, and are found in different numbers, which helps scientists classify different plants.
Hair covered sepals.
Contrasting sepal coloration helps in attracting insects !
The petals and sepals are usually differentiated into colorful petals and green sepals – but they are not always green ! The term tepal is usually applied when the petals and sepals are not differentiated and look similar or the petals are absent and the sepals are colorful.
In Hellebore – the flower has no petals and the sepals function as the petals –
but we call them tepals !
The initial function of sepals is to provide support and protection for a flower bud. They close up around it until it’s ready to bloom. Sepals surround the petals and the reproductive organs inside the flower primarily to protect them from harsh environmental conditions such as drying out.
In most plants, once the flower has bloomed, the sepal withers or is present but no longer of use. Sometimes however, it becomes covered in thorns and serve the function of protecting the seeds. In other cases, the sepals can go as far as growing larger and closing around the fruit in order to protect it from different kinds of insects or animals. They may become sharp and pointy, and can even produce chemicals that would ward off predators.
Sorrel (Hibiscus) –
a drink from these sepals is brewed in Mexico and many Caribbean countries – its delicious!
It’s a keep away from me sepal ! –
Acaena species from New Zealand
In Physallis (Chinese lantern) the sepals protect the seed.
Delphiniums ! Who doesn’t like them !
Beware of the toxic sepals – they are poisonous !
The thick sepals of Rafflesia protect the flower inside !
Monkey face orchid – Dracula simia –
Check out those sepals !!!
Those are some hairy sepals ! Rosa hybrida bud.
This flower produces a bright red set of bracts (a floral part similar to sepals that covers the whole flower)
Its called Hooker’s lips (psychotria elata) – and that is self explanatory once you see the picture.
It also produces a psychedelic chemical – but of course it does !!!!
For a garden full of flowers (and sepals of course!) –
Call Plant Specialists TODAY !
We have a Design Team that can do that for you ! !
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Article written by our Staff Horticulturist, Peter B Morris, BSc, MSc, MBA
All photographs used with permission @SHUTTERSTOCK