36 pages 1 hour read

Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Chapter 2Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 2 Summary: “Desire: Beauty/Plant: The Tulip”

Pollan recalls discounting the tulip’s beauty when he planted them in his parents’ garden as a kid. Three-and-a-half centuries earlier, tulips ignited a madness in Holland between 1634 and 1637, when the tulip took “a star turn on history’s main stage” (63). The story of “tulipomania” (93), as the Dutch craze is called, helps unpack our obsession with the beauty of flowers. The great civilizations in the ancient world regarded flowers as beautiful, though the ancient Jews and Christians discouraged the use of flowers because they thought they would encourage paganism. Another exception is in Africa, where flowers do not play a role in social ritual.

The human predisposition for flowers might be explicable because we were foragers for most of our existence, and the presence of flowers indicates the presence of future fruit. Flowers were also symbols, to us and to the animals they attracted. Pollan posits that “flowers have always borne the often absurd weight of our meaning-making” (69). They are by definition metaphors, such as the orchid that looks like a female insect to attract males. Pollan presents the flowers in his garden as "dramatis personae" (70), each using a different ruse to attract bees.