I feel like much of my professional life as an entomologist prepared me to finally write this book. My research has always focused on that wondrous meeting place the interface between flowers and their often lusty go-betweens, the insects, birds, bats and even lizards that pollinate them in their searches for food, shelter and mating sites. The blatant reason for flowers is biological advertisement, as living miniature billboards for sexual favors from pollinating animals, but they represent so much more for us. Although my other books dealt with bees (e.g. Letters from the Hive, The Bee Tree) or pollinators in general (The Forgotten Pollinators), The Reason for Flowers is an entirely different kind of book.
This was my chance to not only explain the features that attract pollinators to flowers, but why humans are attracted to blooms and how indeed flowers have changed history, added lavishness and delight to many cultures, and the many ways they’ve changed our lives for the better. Without flowers it’s likely that humans would not have evolved. Our hominid ancestors developed a sweet tooth along with the keen insight that many flowers later become colorful luscious ripe fruits that nourish and keep us healthy. This is a unique story, a new synthesis and twist about how we view, use and appreciate flowers, and why they matter. The cultural stories of flowers had to be told.
The Reason for Flowers represents various cross-pollinations and is the fruitful marriage of science and many artistic endeavors. Sometimes the scientist but always the storyteller I reveal the deep history of the first fossil flowers from China, early and modern pollinators and how they have interacted through the ages. Together, along our journey of mutual discovery we explore the earliest documented use of flowers in 13,000 year old Natufian burials, how religions used then later abandoned flowers in their rituals, and what flowers meant to the Victorians. I also explore the formation of secretive symbolic floral bouquet languages in France, the nuances of perfumery, cooking with flowers, and how flowers have influenced generations of artists, photographers, writers, poets, gardeners, naturalists and scientists.
What I struggled with most in writing The Reason for Flowers is just this cultural bounty and diversity that surrounds the use of flowers through the ages. Each of the book’s fourteen chapters could easily have been its own independent book. For example, there are many hundreds of books on gardening, but I had to condense the world’s history of eastern and western-themed gardens and carefully select the best examples. I strove for enough richness and depth in telling the tales of people and their flowers, without becoming too technical or detailed. The book is intended for a wide general audience, but one with an appreciation for science, wild nature and human passions.
In the final chapter, I describe amazing new psychological discoveries about how flowers influence our behavior in ways we’ve never imagined. Almost subliminal concentrations of floral scents in room air give us joy, and decrease our social distance with strangers. Give someone a bouquet of flowers and they bring them to their face, inhaling their sweet aromas while smiling broadly. Flowers may even enhance our long-term memories, or keep us happier and healthier in other as yet unknown ways. I selected scientific examples of how flowers were used in the creation of modern genetics, along with personal examples from decades of my own research like arrows drawn from a quiver of floral encounters and experiences around the world. I want my readers to have a personal glimpse behind the scenes about how my own research has used, been guided and endlessly enriched by flowers and their myriad pollinators. I hope you enjoy this literary journey among the flowers as much as I did researching, writing and editing these colorful and often ribald tales.