Single and double flowers

Dog rose Single dahlia 'Bishop of Auckland'

These tDouble dahliawo dahlias illustrate the difference between a single flower (left) and a double flower (right), the latter having many more petals.


The archetypal flower reads from outside in – sepals (often green), then petals, male stamen and finally the central female parts.

In the single dahlia stamens with their yellow pollen which is available for honeybees to collect, can be seen clearly .  Pollen provides most of the protein in a bee’s diet.

Cross section of flower diagram

In double flowers, stamens have been transformed into extra petals for a fuller, showier bloom.  The lack of pollen means pollination cannot occur and the flower remains open for longer, waiting.  Both of these features have made double flowers attractive to horticulturists and much energy has been put into breeding double varieties.  Highly bred cultivars are much more likely to be doubles than their species (natural) counterparts.  Plants with the name ‘flore pleno’ should ring warning bells as it means ‘with a full flower’ and will almost certainly mean it is a double.

Nectaries (rarely visible) store nectar which provides the carbohydrate part of a bee’s diet.  They are easier to access in single flowers than in doubles.

Some plant species are good honey bee plants in their single form but not when bred as doubles:  Hawthorn (Crataegus ‘Paul’s Scarlet), Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida), Geums – semi-double cultivars ‘Miss Bradshaw’ and ‘Lady Stratheden’, Cinquefoil (Potentilla), Clematis (such as the strange ‘Viennetta’) and Hollyhock (Alcea rosea).

For rose fans you may not waRosa caninant to learn that only the species roses (Dog rose Rosa canina and R. rugosa) offer food (pollen only) for honeybees.

It is understandable that having as much colour, for as long as possible, has been a priority in British gardens prone as they are to the blanketing green of a wet summer.  The fact that plant breeding has followed the demand of gardeners makes simple economic sense.  It is nature that is beginning to suffer however.  Breeding away pollen serves neither the plant species, as it can’t reproduce itself, nor the insects whose main source of protein it is.

In 2012 trendsettinCleve West's gardeng RHS Chelsea flower show was a curious hybrid of naturalistic show gardens and new double-cultivars on display in the plant-breeders’ marquees.

The question is, can designers influence public taste sufficiently for nurseries to change their ways or would it put the breeders out of a job?





Sarah Raven’s Plants for Pollinators  has a good selection of single flowered Dahlias.

8 Responses to “Single and double flowers”

  1. J L Smith on

    Is it generally considered that double flowers do not produce pollen, both in a cultivated form or in British wild flowers. Upon reflection there would be no advantage for wild flowers to be double and lacking pollen because the flowers require pollination.
    Please confirm, many thanks.

  2. admin on

    I’m so sorry I haven’t replied, the comment didn’t flag up. I do confirm that there would be no point flowers attracting insects if they had no pollen to offer – it takes a lot of their energy to produce flowers. Better late than never?

  3. admin on

    Aquilegias are great for bees for many bees but not for honey bees – although they can access the nectar sometimes, through a hole pierced through the petal near the nectary at the bottom of the flower!

  4. rob on

    not true: “The lack of pollen means pollination cannot occur…” Many double flowers are pollinated and produce seed including double roses which is how new varieties are bred.

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