An extract from: THE FLOWER GARDEN by Penelope Hobhouse

From the Chapter entitled 'The Attraction of Flowers'

  • 'Most of our flowering garden plants are angiosperms, with a decorative flower structure composed of a modified leaf shoot having two functions: to protect the reproductive organs and to assure appropriate pollination. Flowers pollinated by wind tend to be relatively small and inconspicuous; they produce neither scent nor nectar, and their colouring is incidental rather than being attuned to the vision of some bird or insect.
  • The more elaborate structures we admire in countless flower species have infinite complexities of colour, form and scent, which evolved over millions of years, closely parralled by the evolution of living pollinators of various kinds.
  • These active participants are very often insects, but also include birds, snails and bats. As these creatures travel and visit flowers (usually in search of food), they bring about fertilization by transferring pollen from the flower's male organ to the receptive female organs, which then form seed. The male and female organs may be in the same flower, in a separate flower of the same plant, or even ( as with most hollies ) on separate plants of the same species. In very many instances the flowers whose appearance people find most intriguing have their floral parts organised in such a way as to avoid self-pollination and instead assure cross-fertilization by means of these visiting agents.
  • In order to assure cross-pollination, some species possess special flower shapes, or allow their female and male organs to mature at different moments. The shape of the flower is sometimes designed to attract and admit the intended pollinator while excluding undesirables. Some complicated flowers such as the snap-dragon-shapes of antirrhinium and linaria will only 'open' when an insect pollinator of the appropriate size and weight lands on the lower lip. The higher insects such as bees are able to follow sophisticated visual signals marking the path to the nectary, and often have to force their way through the folds of the flower to reach it.
  • Scent is another adaptation, aimed to attract from a distance pollinating insects that possess a well developed sense of smell. Flowers scents are often extremely pleasing to human tastes, but the smell of rotting meat that lures the carrion-flies to pollinate arum flowers demonstrates that this is not invariably so.
  • Some flowers such as night scented stock, tobacco plants and the Chilean Cestrum perqui emit their fragrance only at evening when colours fade. Others only open as dusk falls. In the case of evening primroses, the flowers open as daylight fail and do not close till dawn. Many attract night-flying moths, which have a keen sense of smell: the evolutionary appearance of honey suckle in the Eocene era is know to have coincided with the emergence of the long-tongued moths. A particularly specialized relationship in North America is the interdependance between night-scented yucca and the moth Pronuba yuccasella , in which the female moth fertilizes the yucca flower while laying its eggs: moth larvae and flower seeds develop together.' Interactive Art and Flowers have much in common.
  • The passive 'gaze' encumbered spectator looks on in amazement occasionally throwing seeds in the wind and generally failing to pollinate (or understand) a work of art.
  • Interactive art allows the human insect to enter and in so doing pollinate the artwork in such a way as to effect constant change in the multi-dimensional 'growth' of the artwork. The artist simulating the role of 'nature' begins a new and closer relationship to the individuals and groups previously know as the 'audience'.

THE FLOWER GARDEN - Penelope Hobhouse ISBN 0-207-17369-9

Angus Robertson Publishers from an original imprint of Harper Collins Publishers

Douglas Sheerer A/Lecturer I.C.I.P