Let a flower be picked from the ground such that its stem is cut and the flower is separated from the root system (as in figure).

enter image description here


1a. At what point is it considered dead?

  1. Does the flower and attached bit of stem continue to live for some time before dying?

  2. Is this like asking when an limb that has been chopped off an animal dies - should we considered not the flower, but the root system?

1b. How does one define death for an organism without a nervous system?

  • $\begingroup$ In medicine, people have problems defining at what point a human is considered dead. Here we do not have consciousness (that we would know off), so I guess the flower is considered dead as soon as it is cut. It lost its ability to regenerate. The plant from which the flower was cut in most cases is still alive. $\endgroup$ – skymningen Apr 5 '17 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your interest. The flower can still "live" for some time if placed in water/nutrients, correct? If the root system had a single flower before the plucking, could the root system still regenerate the flower? $\endgroup$ – electronpusher Apr 5 '17 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Regenerate the same flower? No. Grow a new one if it is not an annual plant or it is at least early in the season, yes. The cells of the flower would still be alive for a while, but how you would decide that for the flower is more of a philosophical question. $\endgroup$ – skymningen Apr 5 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ i don't know about the flower in your picture, but a lot of plants will not die at all, but grow roots and become a new individual plant if you put a piece of it in water. about the bigger question, wikipedia has a list of things characterising "life" of all forms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Definitions (but as with humans, i guess it's not always that easy to tell) $\endgroup$ – picapica Apr 8 '17 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ I've voted to close this since it seems to be both unfocused (there are at least two separate questions — one about the definition of death and another about how that applies to a cut flower) and unclear (how are you defining alive? — the answer you accepted makes it clear that this is somewhat arbitrary). Since you are taking the time to edit, please consider fixing these problems. Thanks! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Dec 8 '20 at 19:29

This is very much analogous to your "limb" suggestion, or, since the flower is a reproductive organ, one can ask,

At exactly what point is the uterus considered dead after a hysterectomy?


At exactly what point are the testicles considered dead after a male dog is castrated?

The organism (woman and dog respectively) does not die. Tissue dies. Tissue dies all the time. Red Blood cells die after about 120 days, give or take. Skin cells die faster than that.

It depends on the definition of death. If one of the requirements for "life" is the ability to reproduce, are both the woman and the dog now dead? Of course not. They had the potential, or perhaps they already reproduced.

If one of the requirements for "life" is the ability to grow, well, the uterus and the testicles are dead immediately upon removal. But we stop "growing", and we don't die.

If one of the requirements for "life" is the ability to respond to its environment, the uterus and the testicles are not dead. They are "alive" for a time, though the environment is toxic to them if thrown away. If placed in nutritious media, they will "live" a bit longer.

Common sense, which often isn't reliable in science, would dictate that the flower dies when it can no longer maintain cell turgor, i.e. can no longer absorb fluids. But the argument can be made that it is only "dying" at that point.

Basically your question depends entirely on the definition of life. And that has not been agreed upon.

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    $\begingroup$ Consider also that at some point the flower will be "dead" even if it is not removed from its plant. The petals will wither and drop off, and if fertilized the ovary will develop into a seed capsule, which will in turn wither and die after releasing seeds. Then the stem which it was attached to may in turn wither and die back. In extreme cases, such as bulbs, the entire above-ground part of the plant and much of the root system will also die, only to re-grow next year. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 14 '18 at 20:40

For a time, a cut flower with a stem, when placed in water can still absorb water. If other nutrients are placed in the water (such as sugar) the flower can continue to absorb those nutrients. If the stem is cut just below the node, and the water is changed, some cut flowers can stay alive for a few weeks. They are alive in that they continue to absorb nutrients through the stem (including water) and some types of cut flowers will visibly grow for a time. However, at a certain point, growth will stop and the flower will begin to wither. The process is more gradual than in an animal, so the moment of 'death' would not be observable.

That said there are some flowers that will grow new roots from the stem, such as geranium. In that case, the cutting can be considered part of a process of regeneration or reproduction.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! This could be a good answer, but answers are much more likely to receive a favorable response if you include supporting references (primary literature is best). Without that support, your answer is indistinguishable from opinion. This is a good example of how to format references. ——— Thank you for taking the tour, but please also consult the help center pages for additional advice on How to Answer effectively on this site. In particular, the question should be ignored as it is off-topic (unclear & unfocused). Thank you! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Dec 8 '20 at 19:21

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