The world would be a pretty drab place without flowers. Their bright cheery colors help make our natural environment a more delightful place to be. But flowers in all their beautiful variations didn’t evolve just for the viewing pleasure of the later-developing human race. What are flowers really for? As botanist and popular science writer William Burger makes clear in this enchanting book, the quick and simple answer is: sex.
Burger emphasizes the essential role that flowers play in life’s evolutionary scheme. Their bright colors and alluring shapes represent a strategy for attracting insects and inducing animals to help with pollination. This constant intermingling is nature’s way of perpetuating the species and encouraging variety, so as to protect against disease and unpredictable environments. Flowers are the supreme example of nature’s reproductive exuberance, ensuring the persistence of life against an onslaught of destructive forces.
More significantly, Burger points out, flowers are the fundamental energy resource for most of the biosphere. Since they energize themselves by capturing the energy of sunlight, they provide a vital link in the chain of life, especially for animals and humans, which depend on other organisms to nourish and energize them. Without the existence of flowering plants, human survival would be in jeopardy.
Finally, Burger goes on to show the paramount importance of a few species of plants that have served not only as the basis of agriculture, but, in doing so, have enabled human civilization to thrive. Even today, in our complex technological world, it is the flowering plants that provide us with nearly all the vegetable energy that sustains us.
Written with clarity, wit, and engaging enthusiasm for the marvels of our fragile ecosystem, Flowers will make you stop and smell the roses, with a new appreciation of their crucial role in the web of life.
"Behind its provocative title stands an engaging and beautifully written look at how flowering plants, over more than 100 million years, have ‘transformed terrestrial ecosystems, supported the origin of primates, and helped us humans become the masters of our planet.’ In a short but sweet overview that can be enjoyed by laypeople and scientists alike, Burger, curator emeritus in the Department of Botany at Chicago's Field Museum, delivers a perfect match to his earlier work, the well-received Perfect Planet, Clever Species. ... Burger convincingly argues that, while plants have changed the world, it's now time for humans, who have gained so much from plants, to protect their future existence."
"Combining a botanist’s orderly approach with an environmentalist’s comprehensive appreciation, Burger traces the evolutionary history of flowering plants, emphasizing the critical importance their biological functions play in the overall health of our planet. Asking — and answering — such basic questions as what is a flower, why are they so varied, and where did they come from, Burger logically guides the reader onto more complex subjects, such as biodiversity, climate change, and agricultural symbiosis....written in an appealing, conversational style."