Departments

Flowers

Flowers are the oldest and first religion, whose sacraments the earth itself performs; the oldest and only universal language, for they say what cannot otherwise be said, and what cannot change as language changes: there are flowers for the graves of every people, and flowers in the graves of our extinct hominid brothers. And these final flowers meant to them all that they still mean.

Our kind of creature came up with the flowers, and we have never been without them. How largely flowers shape the human sense of the world can be demonstrated by a few thought experiments.

Imagine the world of the Mesozoic, when dinosaurs ruled the world, so old in their possession that they walked on the fossils of their own kind. And there were no flowers: no flower anywhere, ever; no bloom, no wilt, no blossom, no fruit, only leaves and needles brown and green, yellow and red. No wonder that the earth had to invent the dinosaurs—just to keep itself entertained.

Imagine the world as it would be belonging to orchids, warped and dyed mirrors of flowers—a world where what is to us grotesque, barbarous, lurid, was the rule—a Gothic architecture of nature, as far from nature as we know it as the facade of Notre Dame from the portico of the Parthenon.

Look at the corpseflowers, where never bee alights, that never incense with sweet smells, that never dress up in bright colors, but in wear deep reds and purples, colors veined as meat is veined, and the smell of decay for their perfume—corpseflowers that close by day, that open for beetles by night. Do not imagine the world that belongs to them.

Some flowers have resemblances, and the match of the resemblances resembles the match of the flowers: aroids of the pointed leaves. They are even welcome in homes when they have been neutered, glossy green, resilient against the rigors of indoor air, acid in all their stems, and some poisonous. But they too have their blossoms, efflorescences impudent and unsheathed; they too imply their own world.

The rose, I think, is half of love; the magnolia, half of longing; the gardenia, half of contentment; the sunflower, have of joy; the lily, half of memory; the wildflowers, more than half of life.