Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Flowers are the earth laughing." There is a festive quality to these beauties that for centuries have been used as gifts, decoration, and inspiration. Stephen Buchmann is a pollination ecologist specializing in bees and is an adjunct professor with the departments of Entomology and Ecology 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 eleven books.
Buchmann begins this beguiling journey through the wonderful world of flowers with a paragraph from the inimitable Diane Ackerman:
"A flower's fragrance declares to all the world that it is fertile, available, and desirable, its sex organs oozing with nectar. Its smell reminds us in vestigial ways of fertility, vigor, life-force, all the optimism, expectancy, and passionate bloom of youth. We inhale its ardent aroma and, no matter what our ages, we feel young and nubile in a world aflame with desire."
And so we begin a series of five sections in which the author examines the sexuality and origins of flowers; growing, breeding, and selling them; flowers as foods, flavors, and scents; their presence in literature, art, and myth; and flowers in service of science and medicine. Buchmann's professional career has focused on flowers and their animal visitors. That is why his encyclopedic appreciation of their purposes and enchantments is so appealing. The author enables us to walk in the shoes of plant breeders, flower farmers, importers of plants, and floral biologists.
We were especially impressed with Buchmann's descriptions of the many roles flowers have played in ancient civilizations, the workings of various trap flowers, the world's earliest gardens, the vibrant presence of flowers in Bali, their role in roadside memorials, breeding for longer vase life, the secret language of flowers, their healing qualities, and the miraculous ability of flowers to lift our spirits and make us smile.