The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives

The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives

by Stephen Buchmann

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476755533
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 02/09/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 232,941
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist specializing in bees, is affiliated with the Departments of Entomology and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. A fellow of the Linnean Society of London, he has published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers and ten books, including The Forgotten Pollinators with Gary Paul Nabhan, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Jonathan Yen was inspired by the Golden Age of Radio, and while the gold was gone by the time he got there, he's carried that inspiration through to commercial work, voice acting, and stage productions. From vintage Howard Fast science fiction to naturalist Paul Rosolie's true adventures in the Amazon, Jonathan loves to tell a good story.

Read an Excerpt

The Reason for Flowers


  • Most open by dawn’s first light or unfurl their charms as the day progresses. Others unwrap their diaphanous petals, like expensive presents, after dark, waiting for the arrival of beloved guests under a radiant moon. We know them as flowers. They are nature’s advertisements, using their beauty to beguile and reward passing insects or birds or bats or people willing to attend to their reproduction. The beauty of their shapes, colors, and scents transforms us through intimate experiences in our gardens, homes, offices, parks and public spaces, and wildlands. Importantly, flowers feed and clothe us. Their fruits and seeds keep the world’s 7.2 billion people from starvation. Flowers represent our past along with our hope for a bright future.

    Before recorded history, all cultures collected, used, and admired flowers not only for utilitarian purposes, but for their elusive fragrances and ephemeral forms that, ironically, symbolized recurring vigor and even immortality. They have enthralled and seduced us, exploiting entire civilizations to enhance their sex lives and spread their seeds. We give and receive flowers as tributes, and to commemorate life’s many triumphs and everyday events. Flowers accompany us from cradle to grave. As spices, they flavor our foods and beverages. We harvest their delicate scents, combining them into extravagantly expensive mixtures, for perfuming our bodies to evoke passion and intrigue. Some yield a woven textile for every purpose, like the valuable fibers surrounding cottonseeds that began their development inside the ovary of a fertilized flower.

    Flowers inspired the first artists, writers, photographers, and scientists, just as they do today on street corners, in florist shops and farmers’ markets, in books, paintings, sculptures, and commercial advertising. They moved online with ease. Arguably, because of the sustaining role they undoubtedly played in the lives of our hominid ancestors, we might not be here if there were no flowers, a love affair, begun early. Once captivated by them, I observed nature’s infinite palette of garden blooms and California wildflowers in the chaparral-clothed canyons near my boyhood home. The honey bees I kept visited flowers for their rewards of nectar and pollen. The bees fed upon the pollen and converted the nectar into delicious, golden, thick honey I drizzled atop slices of hot toast at breakfast. As a child, finding and observing bees of all kinds on wildflowers became my passion and quest across California’s wildlands. The bees showed me the way, leading to a lifelong dedication to flowering plants.

    As a pollination ecologist, and entomologist, my professional career has focused on flowers and their animal visitors. Using 35 mm film and making silver gelatin prints of blossoms has been an abiding interest since my teenage years. Today, I carry a 35 mm digital camera and close-up lenses to photograph flowers and their pollinators. (I have selected some favorite floral portraits and included them in this book.) Having written books on bees, I knew a different kind of book must follow, one that traces humankind’s fascination with and use of flowers for every imaginable purpose and delight, since prehistory across all continents and cultures. There is much that we fail to appreciate in flowers, especially the roles they play in human affairs. Why do they make us happy and lift our spirits? Many people insist they heal our bodies and minds.

    You are about to undertake a journey into the secretive world of flowers, animals, and humanity. I want you to see and smell like a hungry bee, and a hummingbird, but also like a plant breeder, flower farmer, importer of cut blooms, or a floral biologist. Together, we will explore the industry and economics of the global production, distribution, and sales of container plants and cut blooms. As you join me, consider keeping a single flower or a colorful bouquet close by, as your botanical muse along our shared path of discovery.

  • Table of Contents

    Preface ix

    Part I Sexuality and Origins

    1 Attracting Attention 3

    2 Flowers and Their Ancestors 25

    3 The Pollinators 44

    Part II Growing, Breeding, and Selling

    4 Pleasure Gardens Ancient and Modern 81

    5 Flowers for Eternity 105

    6 Best of Show 124

    7 Arriving by Jumbo Jet 150

    Part III Foods, Flavors, Scents

    8 Eating Flowers 167

    9 A Little Dab behind the Ear 186

    Part IV Flowers in Literature, Art, and Myth

    10 The Secret Language of Flowers 209

    11 Flowers on the Page 221

    12 Flower Power: The Meaning of Flowers in Art 240

    Part V Flowers in the Service of Science and Medicine

    13 The Flower and the Scientist 265

    14 Good for What Ails Us: Healing Our Bodies and Minds 286

    Acknowledgments 303

    Appendix 1 Flower Statistics 306

    Appendix 2 Cooking with Flowers: Selected Recipes 308

    Appendix 3 After Bringing Them Home: Caring for Your Cut Flowers 310

    Appendix 4 Online Resources for Wildflower and Pollinator Conservation Organizations 312

    Notes and Sources 313

    Photo and Art Credits 322

    Index 323

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