Why are flowers so fascinating?

Sophie Adelman, Cofounder & CEO · Fri, 15 Jul 2022

From symbolic lilies to romantic roses, flowers play an important role in all our lives. They provide beauty, medicine, scents, dyes and so much more. But there are still many unanswered questions about flowers that we can explore together in this series.

Flowers are all around us in the world but why do we love them so much? In this Fascinating Flowers Series we will journey into the world of floral delights across art, history, culture and science, to learn about how flowers have shaped how we live and experience the world.

Flowers as a biological mystery

Did you know there are over 369,000 species of flowering plants (94% of the known plant species are angiosperms or flowering plants) and over 2,000 new plant species are discovered every year. But the evolution of plants that led to flowers remains a biological mystery. Humans could not exist without flowering plants, but to this date researchers cannot explain where they came from. Why did Darwin describe the origin of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery”?

Professor Richard Buggs from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew looked at this question in his Garden Talk on 'Why are flowers a biological mystery?' and explains that the reason plants have evolved to have flowers comes down to reproductive efficiency; flowers are a fundamentally more efficient way of having sex. Flowers allow pollinators to be attracted to the plant to disperse the pollen meaning the plant can produce less pollen than if it relies on wind dispersal.

He also dug into the theories around the timing and process of flower evolution from Darwin to the present day and why understanding where angiosperms came from is so important because of the profound questions it leaves us about the creation and evolution of our world.

Flower & Power

From the meaning of carnations in Sex and the City to the use of sunflowers in the cleanup of Chernobyl, from Henry VIII’s ban on saffron dye in Ireland to the modernist reinventions of roses, flowers are deeply woven into our culture and our history. How have they inspired us and what do they mean?

Professor Kasia Boddy at the University of Cambridge studied the cultural history of flowers and how they have been used to wage wars, symbolise nations, inspire poets and woo lovers across the world. In this Garden Talk, Kasia explored how flowers have given rise to meaning, value, and inspiration throughout history, and why they are integral to so many different cultures.

Blue Flowers

Did you know that there are very few truly blue things in nature and this is why some cultures do not have a word for blue? In his Garden Talk as part of the 'World According to Colour' Series, Dr. James Fox from the University of Cambridge, delighted and inspired us with his insights into how blue exists in nature (or doesn't) and how this impacts our experience of colour in the world.

Flowers of Paradise

Gardens have always been important in the symbolise of paradise or heaven in many cultures and religions. In this Garden Talk, Dr. James Fox, looks at how paradise has been depicted in art and shares how the use of flowers, plants and garden structures gives insight into how different cultures have conceived of the idea of heaven and how this has been visually represented on Earth. A wonderful way to consider the divine flower as a divine symbol.

Start your curiosity pathway by exploring this Fascinating Flowers Series.

Explore the series - Fascinating Flowers

Flowers are all around us in the world but why do we love them so much?

What do flowers mean to us?

Prof. Kasia Boddy

From the meaning of carnations in Sex and the City to sunflowers in the cleanup of Chernobyl and Henry VIII’s ban on saffron dye, flowers are deeply woven into our culture & our history. How have they inspired us & what do they mean?

Why do some cultures have no word for blue?

Dr. James Fox

Until relatively recently in human history, there wasn't a word meaning "blue". Of the ancient cultures, only the Egyptians had a word for this colour. What was everyone else seeing?

Why are flowers a biological mystery?

Prof. Richard Buggs

We could not exist without flowering plants, but to this date researchers cannot explain where they came from. Why did Darwin describe the origin of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery”?

How do artists depict paradise?

Dr. James Fox

Humans have always speculated about what a perfect world might look like, whether as a reward in the afterlife, part of an origin story like the Garden of Eden, or a real place on Earth. How do we see these ideas play out in the art we create?