Stop and Read about the Roses: 6 Books about Flowers

Photograph of a flower.
Photo courtesy Samet Kilic on Flickr under CC License.

Speaking as a Mid-Westerner by birth, winter here in Pasadena is a little odd. It’s cooler than summer, yes, but definitely not winter cold like I’m used to. In fact, since we’re getting more rain and the weather isn’t cold enough to freeze, it feels more like spring to me than winter and the plants seem to agree. Rose bushes that looked dead all summer have started to bloom as has the orange tree outside my house. These unseasonable (to me) flowers have inspired a list of some of the books we have here at the library examining flowers and their relationship with humankind from a fictional, historical, and sociological perspective.

Tulipomania book coverTulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash

In the 1630s a strange craze swept over the usually staid and sensible people of the Netherlands as the famed Tulip Craze swept the nation. People began paying more and more money for rare varieties of tulip bulbs until some were selling for more than the price of a house. It was the first futures market and like many of the futures markets that followed, its crash led to an economic depression throughout the country. But what was this flower that became an obsession for so many and how did it make its way to The Netherlands and into the history books in this unexpected way? Tulipomania traces the history of the tulip from its humble beginnings on the steppes of Asia all the way to its brief place as the most valuable flower in the world.

The Language of Flowers book coverThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria Jones spent her childhood making her way through the foster care system, an experience that left her at the age of eighteen unable to connect with anyone and living homeless in a park. The only way that she truly understands to communicate is through the Victorian language of flowers in which each different kind of flower symbolizes a message or emotion. While in the park one day a local florist sees Victoria and recognizes her special talent with flowers. Through a new job with the florist, Victoria seems at last to be moving on with her life and beginning to heal, but before that can happen she must confront the secrets and pain of her past and decide if her future is worth the risk.

The Last CamelliaThe Last Camellia book cover by Sarah Jio

The last surviving specimen of a rare type of camellia lies in the hothouse of an English country house on the eve of WWII.  A gang of international flower thieves contract American botanist Flora to steal the precious bloom, but when Flora arrives at the house she finds more than just a flower waiting for her. During her time at the house she discovers love as well as a dark and dangerous secret. More than fifty years after Flora’s arrival at the house, garden designer Addison takes up residence there with her husband Rex. Drawn to the beautiful camellia garden and a mysterious gardener’s diary, Addison and Rex begin to uncover the mystery of what happened at the house long ago. But will they unravel the mystery of the crimes at the house and find out what happened to Flora before Addison shares her fate?

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and ObsessionThe Orchid Thief book cover by Susan Orlean

Orlean takes a journalist’s eye to the story of John LaRoche who in 1994 was arrested for removing several rare ghost orchids from the Florida swamps where they are a protected species. He planned to clone these rare flowers and sell them to rabid orchid collectors who would pay almost any price for one. As Orlean follows LaRoche for several months she delves deeper and deeper into the world of these rare flowers and the people who are obsessed with them. This is the story not just of LaRoche, but also of the members of the Seminole tribe who participate in his business, a tribe that is in fact still at war with the United States today, the environmentalists fighting against orchid smuggling, and the strange world of orchid collectors driven to extremes by an obsession with a flower. In The Orchid Thief, Orlean has written a tale about passion and the strange roads that it takes people down.

Seven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World book coverSeven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World by Jennifer Potter

Journalist Jennifer Potter examines the history and legacy of seven of the most famous and influential flowers: the lily, the orchid, the sunflower, the rose, the tulip, the poppy, and the lotus. Each of these seven flowers had a powerful relationship with humankind and each of their stories captures how these relationships subtly and uniquely affected our history. Along with the history of each flower, Potter also looks at how different cultures interpreted and ascribed different meanings to the same flowers. As she delves into the question of how each flower became the focus for so much art, literature, and industry, Potter also examines the more fundamental question of how these flowers came to be imbued with so much meaning.

Flower Confidential book coverFlower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers by Amy Stewart

Flower Confidential presents a behind-the-scenes look at the world of breeding and selling flowers. Here Stewart chronicles the enduring search for perfection of the geneticists, florists, and farmers who seek to create stronger, brighter blooms of flowers in all shapes and sizes. Among a large cast of characters there is a geneticist who works tirelessly to create a blue rose, an eccentric who created the most popular lily ever grown, and a breeder creating gerberas of every imaginable color. As Stewart tells the story of each of these people and their passion for flowers, she provides a window into the strange world of the flower business.