Pollinating insects have a very obvious relationship with plants — they visit a brightly beautiful colored flower to obtain food (nectar) and in exchange they pick up pollen and carry it into neighboring flowers, pollinating them in the process. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship of food for flying sexual favors. One can reasonably imagine how such a relationship might have evolved over millions of years, with plants competing against each other using flower color, shape and scent to attract the most insects and increase seed production.
Flowers have been an important indicator throughout human evolution of our most important resource — food — either immediate, nearby or pending. Hand in hand with bees, our ancestors would have been part of the process of flower and plant evolution — consuming seeds and helping to spread them far and wide while the pollinators buzzed around doing their job high up in the canopies.
Symmetry is also a key indicator. Symmetry is built into our preference for finding a human mate based upon facial symmetry. This is where Leonardo da Vinci would come in handy. There have been many studies that prove this and it is believed that we find facial bilateral symmetry as an indicator of genetic health and quality. This is another ancient evolutionary gift bestowed upon many creatures so millions if not billions of years old. In reality nobody’s face is ever really truly symmetrical but the nearer it is to perfection the better. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci knew that faces are not truly symmetrical; therefore, the Mona Lisa looks more realistic. What it comes down to is that we’re all subconscious mathematicians making algorithmic calculations in a mathematical universe.
If you haven’t checked out Monty Don’s Paradise Garden— this may be a great reference point too. There are many references to geometric shapes and patterns within Islamic design. Designing a garden with perfect geometric lines and balance shows an appreciation of the universal principles of life itself (or god).
Our liking for symmetry is mirrored in man’s design of cars, buildings and gardens. Flowers are obviously symmetrical, hence we find beauty in their shape. Bilaterally symmetrical flowers reportedly contain more nectar than radially symmetrical ones and indicate richer habitats — so food could be another factor in our love of more simple flowers.
People can now attribute their love for flowers because of the beauty, color, shape, and fragrance. Without flowers, plants would merely be green, and the world would be a duller place.
Flowers make us happy by triggering those happy brain chemicals. Dopamine is triggered by the expectation of a reward. Flowers were a huge reward signal in the world our brain evolved in because they marked the coming of abundance after a hungry winter. Today we have enough to eat all year round so we don’t consciously link flowers with food. But the blossoming of a flower triggers the sense that something special is coming because it triggers dopamine.
Bright colors signaled valuable nutrition for our hunter-gather ancestors. They balanced their diet by scanning for spots of color. They didn’t do it because they knew the chemistry; they did it because dopamine made them feel good. Today, color and variety make you feel good and get your attention even though you can get nutrition in other ways.
Flowers stimulate social trust in many ways. They communicate the intention to invest effort in a relationship. And they convey a respect for fragility. We feel the impermanence of flowers, and it reminds us that care is necessary to sustain life. Relationships can be as fragile as flowers and the care we give to plants helps us remember the care that our relationships need.
A wildflower hike triggers all the happy brain chemicals at once! You get a steady stream of dopamine as you make discovery after discovery. You trigger oxytocin as you share that excitement with others. You trigger serotonin as you applaud your participation in this fabulous activity. You even stimulate endorphin if you hike with exertion.
Perhaps our mental health improved through outdoor activity and relaxing in gardens (especially with bees and symmetrical butterflies) goes back in time. We’re really not meant to be digital slaves, always connected to a device, never relaxing, separating ourselves from the world that we were born into. We’re supposed to be in a treetop hammock feasting on berries and watching a bee at work on the flowers.
Perhaps that’s a little far-reaching, but until we realize the beauty and nature around us, we may be missing out on what’s right in front of us.