“How Flowers Changed the World” is an essay by the anthropologist and nature writer Loren Eiseley that appeared in his 1957 classic, The Immense Journey. I hereby steal Eiseley’s essay title by way of honoring him.
How did flowers change the world? “Once upon a time,” Eiseley writes, “there were no flowers at all.” No roses or dandelions or dogbane or dogwood. A complete list runs to more than 250,000 named species of angiosperms (flowering plants). With flowers the world got its blossoms, its bouquets, its perennial borders, its apple orchards, its peach fuzz, its wheat, its broccoli, its Georgia O’Keeffe flower paintings.
Flowers are sexual organs. Maybe that’s why we find them romantic. O’Keeffe denied that her flower paintings were in any way sexual, which is not too strange considering that she had to constantly deal with the stereotyping of her work due to the fact that she the artist was a woman. (O’Keeffe said, “The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters.”) Still, we must admit that flowers are sexual organs, beautiful sexual organs, and that O’Keeffe’s flowers magnify the details of beautiful sexual organs.