Seven Flowers: And How They Shaped Our World

Seven Flowers: And How They Shaped Our World

by Jennifer Potter
     
 

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The lotus. The lily. The sunflower. The opium poppy. The rose. The tulip. The orchid.
Seven flowers, each with its own story full of surprises and secrets, each affecting the world around us in subtle but powerful ways. But what is the nature of their power and how did it develop? Why have these particular plants become the focus of gardens, literature,

Overview

The lotus. The lily. The sunflower. The opium poppy. The rose. The tulip. The orchid.
Seven flowers, each with its own story full of surprises and secrets, each affecting the world around us in subtle but powerful ways. But what is the nature of their power and how did it develop? Why have these particular plants become the focus of gardens, literature, art—even billion dollar industries?
The answers to these questions and more are what drove journalist and author Jennifer Potter to write Seven Flowers. Drawing on sources both ancient and modern, and featuring lush full-color illustrations and gorgeous line art throughout, Potter examines our changing relationship with these potent plants and the effects they had on civilizations through the ages. The opium poppy, for example, returned to haunt its progenitors in the West, becoming the source of an enormously profitable drug trade in Asia. In the seventeenth century, the irrational exuberance of the Dutch for rare tulips led to a nationwide financial collapse. Potter also explores how different cultures came to view the same flowers in totally different lights. While Confucius saw virtue and modesty in his native orchids, the ancient Greeks saw only lust and sex.
In the eye of each beholder, these are flowers of life and death; of purity and passion; of greed, envy and virtue; of hope and consolation; of the beauty that drives men wild. All seven demonstrate the enduring ability of flowers to speak metaphorically—if we could only decode what they have to say.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/17/2014
For Potter (The Rose), the seven flowers in this book share “a complex and contrary history,” from the tulip, used as a tool for financial speculation, to the sunflower, whose stature put it out of favor with gardeners even while inspiring artists and writers. Potter takes each flower in turn, starting with a detailed history from ancient times. For example, the lily’s story starts with “spectacular lily frescoes found in the Cretan palace complex of Knossos.” Like jungles of lotus in China, Potter’s flowers take on further abundant and tangled associations in the early Christian world, the medieval period, and the new world. From there, the flowers make their symbolic presence felt most strongly in Western art and literature—from van Gogh’s sunflowers to Gertrude Stein’s famous “rose is a rose is a rose.” Not a traditional botanical guide by any measure, Potter’s book is for the armchair florist, the orchid-obsessed, and the history reader with a green thumb. The flowers are an excuse to arrange a bouquet of interesting vignettes, such as the origins of the fleur-de-lis or the introduction of laudanum, made from opium poppies, in Western medicine. If Potter’s source list is any indication, she has distilled a massive amount of information into an erudite book with an entertaining conceit. Agent: Caroline Dawnay, United Agents. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Strange Blooms:
 
“A tour de force . . . We owe Potter a huge debt of gratitude for the tireless research and sifting of evidence that have allowed the Tradescants and their great legacy to emerge so clearly at last.” —Sunday Times
 
“Beautifully produced and meticulously researched.” —Observer
 
“Masterly . . . Jennifer Potter's achievement in Strange Blooms is to have breathed life back into the Tradescant name.” —Times Literary Supplement
Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
Horticultural historian Potter (The Rose) presents an intricate, well-researched and documented account of seven flower species (lotus, lily, sunflower, opium poppy, rose, tulip, and orchid) that have played significant roles in history, culture, science, and the humanities. Laced with art, poetry, and poetic prose, Potter's work takes readers on a journey that traces each of these flowers' roots and their introductions beyond their original borders and uses. From the blue lotus of ancient Egypt and the connections Egyptians made between its blooms and the daily birth and death of Ra the sun god to contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's use of sunflower seeds to provoke commentary on geopolitical economics, Potter's flowers captivate. The words of poets, philosophers and historians and quotations from works of religion, art, and science allow readers to follow each flower's complex migration from first documentation to consideration of it today. (For a different take on the opium poppy and heroin production in Afghanistan and its role in contemporary world politics, see Gretchen Peters's Seeds of Terror.) VERDICT Not just for those interested in botany or gardening but those who appreciate history, art history, religious studies, and literature. This is a work that will appeal to, and satisfy, a broad readership.—Jenny Contakos, Art Inst. of Virginia Beach Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-04
Botanical writer Potter (The Rose, 2011) examines the rich history of "the flowers of healing; of delirium and death; of purity and passion; of greed, envy and virtue; of hope and consolation; of the beauty that drives men wild." Going back to evidence of roses more than 35 million years ago, the author traces the beginnings and great influences of that iconic flower, as well as the lotus, lily, opium poppy, sunflower, tulip and orchid. While English gardeners will benefit more from the author's deep discussion of various species, most other readers will enjoy the luscious botanical descriptions. The earliest descriptions of plants predate Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus' 18th-century binomial nomenclature and were often misnamed. For example, the fleur-de-lis is not a lily but rather a flag iris, and water lilies aren't really lotuses. In addition to the power of flowers to speak metaphorically, Potter explores their influence on art, literature and especially the medicinal arts. The opium poppy has 40 alkaloids, including codeine and morphine, while the lovely tulip has no use as either nourishment or medicine. Even so, tulip fever led to the financial ruin of thousands in 17th-century Holland. Globalization of different species of flowers began with Alexander the Great, whose army carried plants to their new conquests, and the Romans continued the spread. The trade routes, especially the Silk Road, transferred even more specimens, as did the plant hunters of the British Empire. The spread of the opium poppy can be laid at the feet of the British, as they fought the opium wars to be allowed to export the opium they grew in India to China. Though Potter is occasionally too thorough in her information, anyone who has ever planted a seed or loved a flower can appreciate the author's knowledge and devotion.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781468308174
Publisher:
Overlook
Publication date:
02/27/2014
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Strange Blooms:
 
“A tour de force . . . We owe Potter a huge debt of gratitude for the tireless research and sifting of evidence that have allowed the Tradescants and their great legacy to emerge so clearly at last.” —Sunday Times
 
“Beautifully produced and meticulously researched.” —Observer
 
“Masterly . . . Jennifer Potter's achievement in Strange Blooms is to have breathed life back into the Tradescant name.” —Times Literary Supplement

Meet the Author

Jennifer Potter writes about the history and culture of plants, gardeners and gardens. She reviews regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, and has been variously a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, a Hawthornden Fellow and an Honorary Teaching Fellow on the Warwick Writing Program.

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