Say It with Flowers

By Brown, Peter | Natural History, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Say It with Flowers


Brown, Peter, Natural History


Nature has been perfecting the sensual attractions of flowers for millions of years. Yet what blossoms so poignantly express to us is not longevity, but transience: enjoy them today, for tomorrow their petals will litter the ground How apt that June, a season silly with flowers, is the month traditionally chosen for some of life's happiest milestones-the graduations, the weddings, days some of us plan for years. Savor the moment, say the flowers of June. This year our daughter Julia is a June graduate, and my wife and I will be among the beaming parents. It wouldn't surprise me if Julia made her appearance in robe and mortarboard with a rose tucked rakishly in her hair.

There is another response to floral profusion-equally valid, and felt with equal passion-which Amy Litt articulates in her cover story, "Origins of Floral Diversity" (page 34). "Most people are content to take pleasure in the sheer abundance and variety" of flowers, she writes. "We evolutionary botanists are less easily gratified." And when you think about it. the cultural tradition that says blossoms are ephemeral gets at only part of the truth about nature's floral extravagance. Biologically, there's nothing ephemeral about it. Millions of years of evolutionary warfare have led to highly efficient devices coldly calibrated to get the mobile pollinators of the world to propagate the rooted species. And-fair warning-Litt has not shrunk from describing the genetic jigsaw puzzle that underlies the astonishing diversity of floral forms. …

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