In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the subject of ‘coronavirus’ is appearing almost everywhere we look: it’s on our TVs, in our newspapers, coming up in conversations with our friends and all over social media. In fact, it’s appearing so often that some people have started comparing its structure with flowers!
As we know, there are many doppelgangers in the world of nature, from butterflies that look like their wings have eyes, to orchids that look like birds. In fact, I’ve created a whole blog post here about plants that look like rude things! So it’s no wonder why a virus might have a visual similarity to certain flowers.
What does a coronavirus look like?
Coronaviruses are named as such because they look like halos (known as coronas) when viewed under the electron microscope.
In the image below, the virus is shown to have a structure consisting of spikes which form a ‘crown’ like a solar corona (the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere).
This is a 3D animation of the structure of a coronavirus, by scientificanimations.com
This is a common shape in nature, once which appears in a variety of flowers! Here are a few notable comparisons…
Of course, the first flower that springs to mind is the Allium! The globe-like flowers of the Allium have often been compared to a firework just after it has exploded – who knew that its next-best lookalike would be a coronavirus structure?
Scary or beautiful? You decide! The Leucospermum is an easily recognisable species thanks to its pincushion-like appearance – but now I think it has another body-double!
The name Aster comes from the Ancient Greek word (astḗr), meaning “star”, referring to the shape of the flower head. Since coronaviruses look like the Sun, and the Sun is a star, I think this one is a no-brainer – although, only certain Asters, like this pom-pom one, have this globe-like effect.
Dandelions start to look like this after they’ve finished flowering. The fluffy bits are called ‘pappuses’, and they carry the seeds away in the wind to germinate elsewhere. With all the seeds attached, they do look a bit like a coronavirus!
Covered in long, narrow petals, Spider Chrysanthemums (also known as Spider Mums) have large flower heads that can grow up to four inches across. In comparison, a virus structure usually has a diameter of around 220 nanometers.
Don’t be fooled if you see a display of these blooms in a summer garden – they’re Agapanthus! Native to South Africa, these explosion-like flower heads can sometimes be confused with Alliums to the untrained eye. But will we start confusing images of these with coronaviruses? Anything is possible these days.
Which flower do you think most resembles a coronavirus structure? Let me know in the comments below!
Credit to Dan Heims from Terra Nova Nurseries, who started off this thought process.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.