Serendipity: Flowers and Bugs

In Order for Flowers to Exist …

Lately, I hav been reading two old books by naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch: The Forgotten Peninsula, about Baja California, and The Voice of the Desert. I found this interesting paragraph in the latter. I sure do like his writings!

Gardeners usually hate “bugs,” but if the evolutionists are reight, there never would have been any flowers if it had not been for those same bugs. The flowers never waste their sweetness on the desert air, or for that matter, on the jungle air. In fact, they waste it only when no one except a human being is here to smell it. It is for the bugs and for a few birds, not for men, that they dye their petals or waft their scents. And it is lucky for us that we either happen to like or have become “conditioned” to liking the colors and the odors which most insects and some birds like also. What a calamity for us if insects had been color blind, as all mammals below the primates are! Or if, worse yet, we had our present taste in smells while all the insects preferred, as a few of them do, that odor of rotten meat which certain flowers dependent on them abundantly provide. Would we ever have been able to discover thoughts too deep for tears in a gray flower which exhaled a terrific stench? Or would we have learned by now to consider it exquisite?



“The Earth Laughs in Flowers”

Flower from the Tropical Greenhouse at the L.A. Arboretum

Flower from the Tropical Greenhouse at the L.A. Arboretum

The sentiment is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, as is the following: “Flowers … are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty overvalues all the utilities of the world.”

When I was a child, I was always surprised that my parents expended so much effort surrounding their house with elegant (and hard to care for) tree roses and other flowers. Perhaps I was slightly jaundiced in my opinion because my brother and I had to keep the blossoms and leaves free of voracious Japanese Beetles.

Now that my parents are gone, I begin to appreciate how they felt. One of the things that I noticed was that they could always tell if a Hungarian family lived in a particular house based on the flowers they planted. I guess it’s partially a genetic thing. Although Martine and I do not raise flowers—after all, we live in an apartment—we go out of our way to visit Huntington Gardens, Descanso Gardens, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and other places where one could walk in floral beauty.

It seems that the Japanese Beetles never made it out to California. Perhaps the intervening deserts and mountains deterred them. One result is that the flower gardens out here in Southern California are particularly beautiful.

The orchid illustrated above is from the L.A. Arboretum’s tropical greenhouse, which contains a treasure of such exotic blossoms.