A short history of flowers

Flowers are a delight to behold. They are colorful, have delicate petals, and come in a variety of wonderful fragrances.  We adore and use them to celebrate special occasions.  From flower girls in a wedding party, to bouquets that express our love to that special person, we use flowers to touch other hearts and highlight our feelings.

All of the wondrous and beautiful qualities of flowers spring from a single source, their colorless sap.  So to, the colorless and formless value of absolute life gives rise to the multiplicity of creation.

The color of flowers are based upon genetic/DNA instructions within the colorless sap of the plant.  Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the red and blue colors.  Shades of yellow come from carotenoid pigments, and various other hues come from combinations of anthoxanthins and anthochlors pigments.

While land plants have existed for about 425 million years, blooming flowers first appeared on the Earth’s surface about 145 million years ago.  That’s when flowering plants known as angiosperms diverged from the non-flowering seed plants known as gymnosperms.  145 million years is a scant time span when compared to the 4.5 billion year evolutionary history of our planet.

Flowers are the reproductive constitution of plants (angiosperms).  They are the most varied and diverse among biological systems.  They developed different colors and fragrances to attract insects, which became a primary means and aid for pollination, thus ensuring the continuation of the species.  Botanists have catalogued over 270,000 different species of flowers.

Recently the fossil of a 125 million year old angiosperm (Archaefructus liaoningensis) was discovered in China.  Woody magnolia-like plants dating back 93 million years and tiny herb-like flower fossils dating back 120 million years have been found by Paleobotanists.  It is believed that the diversification of flowers was well underway by the middle of the Cretaceous Period, the dinosaur-dominated period.

Because of their beauty and delicate structure flowers have become a key part of human civilization.

In ancient Egypt flowers were used for decoration, burials, and processions as early as 2,500 BCE.  In Europe flowers and plants adorned monasteries (1,000 BCE).  They became an important part of religious teachings and used in medicines during the Han dynasty in China (200 BCE).  In Buddhist teachings the tiger lily, the pomegranate, and the orchid symbolized fertility, while the Peony stands for wealth and good fortune.  The Greeks and the Romans used flowers garlands and wreaths.

The Aster

There are over 600 species of this beautiful flower.  Thought to have healing powers, ancient peoples believed that the odor given off by its burning leaves would drive away evil spirits.

The Carnation

Cultivated for the last 2,000 years they hail from the Near East and Mediterranean region.  Used as Greek ceremonial crowns, in colors of red, white, purple and pink, today they are the national flower of Spain and Slovenia.


Raised in Chinese nobility gardens for more than 2,500 years, they were once considered part of the privileged class. The ancient Chinese city province of Xiaolan was named Ju-Xian, meaning “chrysanthemum city”.  They were brought to England in 1795, and quickly spread throughout the western world.   They are often just called mums and have recently been found to have possible medicinal properties – including anti-HIV, antibacterial and antimycotic.

The Dahlia

The Aztec culture of Central America used dahlias in their treatment of epilepsy.  Also native to Mexico and Colombia, the plant was first introduced to Europe around 1800.  Before the invention of insulin, sugar extraction from dahlia tubers was used to treat diabetes.  Today ingredients of the plant are used for testing liver and kidney function.

The Daisy

The images of Daisies have been found on gold hairpin ornaments in the Minoan palace excavated on the Island of Crete. They are believed to be more than 4000 years old. Egyptian ceramics are also decorated with daisies.  This flower’s English name was day’s eye, referring to the way it opens and closes with the sun.  There are over 23,600 species of the Daisy family.

The Gladiolus

Although sometimes called the “sword lily,” this perennial plant which grows abundantly in sub-Sahara and South Africa, instills peace and serenity.  There are over 260 species of this plant.  In the 18th century they were imported to Europe.

Holly flowers

This gracious plant had been dubbed “Holy Tree” and is believed to provide a house with protection against lightening.  Often used to signify eternal life, it has come to represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, the red berries his drops of blood.  Although the berries are somewhat toxic to humans, birds and other animals use the pointed leafed plant for shelter, food, and protection from predators.

The Orchid

Greek women once believed that if their husbands ate large tubers before consummation, they would give birth to boys.  There are over 25,000 recognized species of Orchids.   Those living in northern climates have evolved to be self pollinating, since in the colder environment there are few pollinators available.  Others have adopted cross pollination which involve complex means.  That drew the attention of Charles Darwin who in 1962 wrote a book (Fertilization of Orchids.) about the subject.   Since the chances for pollination are not that great, these Orchids remain receptive to pollination for a longer time period, and once pollination does occur they often release pollen in a large single mass, so that thousands of ovules can be fertilized at once.

The Poinsettia

The first Poinsettia was brought to the United States from Mexico in 1928.  They are large shrubs or trees, growing as tall as 16-feet in height.  The plant has large dark green leaves and colored bracts (modified leaves that carry the reproductive structure) that can be flaming red, orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marble.  Today Poinsettias grow very nicely in other subtropical climates, such as in northern Australia.


Often considered the goddess of flowers, it is said that Aphrodite herself presented a rose to her son Eros, the god of love.  Roses appeared in Asian gardens more than 5,000 years ago.  Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) wrote that the Emperor of China owned over 600 books about the culture of Roses. They were introduced to ancient Mesopotamia by Sargon the 1st.  Since the stem of a rose has thorns, they have come to symbolize both the joy and sorrow that accompanies human life.


These magnificent flowers always turn toward the sun as they grow skyward.  Originally from Central and South America, they have been spread to other parts of the world.  For the Chinese they symbolize longevity.  North American Indians placed sunflower seeds on the graves of their dead to promote a speedy journey to the afterlife.  They were worshiped by ancient Peruvian Incan society.


Tulips are native to Southern Europe, North Africa, Iran and Northwest China.  Tulips were once thought to be the symbol of the Ottoman Empire.  They are spring blooming perennial flowers grown from bulbs.  In 1634 their popularity spread so quickly that European people abandoned businesses and jobs to become tulip growers.  After World War II the Dutch imported hundreds of thousands of Tulip bulbs into Ottawa Canada and other countries.  Tulip festivals are held every year in Holland, Michigan USA, and in other worldwide cities.


There are about 500 species of this beautiful purple flower, which are found in temperate northern climates, Hawaii and the Andes Mountains of South America.  They are both perennial and annual, most have heart shaped scalloped leaves, with flowers forming 5 petals.


The formless absolute value of life gives rise to our world of multiplicity.  The colorless sap in flowers does the same for angiosperms.  Their beautiful colors and texture light up our lives.  Every human civilization has found a special place and meaning for these ambassadors of nature.

In the garden of my earthly dreams grow many blossoms.  As the petals open to greet the morning sun I delight in the bouquet of life.  Audacious colors bless our lives and quicken our spirit with love and unity.  Daily meditation awakens us to that same eternal reality that pulses through the veins of every flower and sentient being.   Let us all behold that silent germ of color which manifests the abundance of life.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 23rd, 2011 at 9:06 pm and is filed under Our apparent world. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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