Sunday, May 15, 2011

People and plants

I had an open house or housewarming party yesterday, whatever you want to call it -- an official introduction to my homestead for family, friends and colleagues, most of whom had never seen it and were coming from an hour or more away. It was great, I'm glad I did it.

I told people not to give me anything but you know how much good that does. I wound up with two azaleas, two hydrangeas, and a lilac, along with about a year's supply of booze. So I planted the shrubs today and it got me to thinking. How can evolution explain our fondness for colorful flowers?

This is no minor feature of human psychology.  There is an enormous industry devoted to breeding, propagating, growing and selling cut flowers and flowering plants.  It's even profitable to fly cut flowers from Chile to New York.  Consider the importance of something so ephemeral to the weightiest of human affairs, from romance to mourning.

There is no shortage of plant life at my estate -- looking out the window I see a riot of green.  Our ancestors on the African savanna would have seen flowers occasionally, but seldom if ever anything as showy as the ornamentals we have developed through centuries of selective breeding.  So this isn't taking us back to some primal memory; nor are flowers particularly indicative of any related reward, at least not until fruit is ripe weeks or months later.  We just like them.

A house, even one sitting in the middle of the woods with lush vegetation all around, doesn't seem complete until we put in some of these useless plants, that we just happen to like.  We are mysterious.


  1. happy housewarming! those hardy flowering plants sound just perfect for the homestead. it's OK if they just make us happy.

  2. Wish we could have been there for the housewarming. Maybe we evolved to love flowers for their beauty and fragrance, the sign of abundance a cultivated thing not for food.

  3. we were there in spirit. glad it worked out well.

  4. I'm kind of focused on the year's supply of booze!

    I love azaleas. Love 'em. We have a dwarf azalea in back that is breathtaking when it is in bloom. Native mountain laurels can be just as breathtaking when they're in full bloom.

    You bring up a good point, Cervantes. It would be interesting to see if there's any culture that has access to bright blooms that doesn't use them in some decorative manner.