With a subtitle that serves as a swift, sweet summary, an adjunct professor (Entomology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology/Univ. of Arizona) compresses the cultural and natural history of flowers into a few hundred graceful pages.
Buchmann—the author of numerous scholarly papers and books, including The Forgotten Pollinators (1996), co-written with Gary Paul Nabhan—realizes he has an impossible task: every chapter could be a fat book, so he draws a map of a remarkable world. The early sections deal with biology, which he knows well and explains clearly. The author reminds us of the parts of plants, the evolution of flowers, the role of pollen-carrying critters that include, of course, bees but also moths, butterflies, and even bats. History plays a major role in just about every chapter. How did the Egyptians use flowers? The Chinese? Victorian England? The American Founding Fathers? Buchmann notes that many of the latter were very interested in gardens—including, of course, Benjamin Franklin, who did experiments. Charles Darwin, Luther Burbank, Gregor Mendel—these and other notables arrive now and then for a visit, and there are allusions to a wide variety of artists, including Shakespeare, Walt Whitman (but no Emily Dickinson?), and Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. We learn about flowers as gifts, as burial ornaments, as food (becoming more popular again, notes the author), as personal decoration (remember your prom?), and as medical treatments. Buchmann explains how honey (about which he has a lot to say) is now returning to hospitals, where some physicians use it as part of a treatment regimen for burn victims. We also learn about the commercial aspects. No surprise: Valentine’s Day is the biggest single purchase day in the United States.
A volume that is like a Eurail Pass that will carry you through gorgeous terrain you will want to explore in more depth.