Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers


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We’ve all seen red roses, blue irises, and yellow daffodils. But when we really look closely at a flower, whole new worlds of beauty and intricacy emerge. Using a unique process that far surpasses conventional macro photography, Robert Llewellyn shows us details that few of us have ever seen: the amazing architecture of stamens and pistils; the subtle shadings on a petal; the secret recesses of nectar tubes.

Complementing Llewellyn’s stunning photographs are Teri Dunn Chace’s lyrical, illuminating essays. By highlighting the features that distinguish twenty-eight of the most common families of flowering plants, Chace gives us fascinating insights into the natural history of flowers, such as the relationship between pollinators and floral form and color. At the same time she gives us a deeper appreciation of why and how flowers have become so deeply embedded in human culture.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a gardener, a photography buff, or someone who simply responds to the timeless beauty and variety of the floral world, Seeing Flowers will be a source of enduring delight.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604694222
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/24/2013
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 725,720
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 10.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Teri Dunn Chace is a writer and editor with more than thirty-five book in publication. She has also written and edited extensively for Horticulture, North American Gardener, Backyard Living, and Birds and Blooms. Raised in California and educated at Bard College in New York, Chace has gardened in a variety of climate zones and soil types. 

Robert Llewellyn’s photographs have been featured in major art exhibits, and more than thirty books currently in print. His book, Empires of the Forest: Jamestown and the Beginning of America, won five national awards in nonfiction and photography, and Washington: The Capital was an official diplomatic gift of the White House and State Department.

Read an Excerpt

All my life, I have been looking at, prodding, poking, sniffing, and plucking at plants. These are habits born of long hours outdoors. I remember, as a very small girl in suburban southern California, squinting at and then tugging on a passionflower vine coming over our fence from the neighbor’s yard. It was so mysterious, so complicated, and yet so symmetrical! I got pollen all over my fingers as I dismembered flower after flower, marveling. And I vividly recall the heady scent of orange blossoms in the nearby orchards. To this day, that fragrance is a Proustian trigger that returns me to my childhood, where I am tucked under the dappled shade of orange trees, spying on the bees browsing the sweet white-petaled flowers while the other kids in our game of hide-and-seek shouted in the distance. They should have known to look for me among flowers.
Later, transplanted to the East Coast, I knelt in cool woodlands to admire the small and pretty spring wildflowers, rue anemones, clintonias, and mayapples. In a small bed off the porch I planted and fussed over perennials: black-eyed Susans, lavender, campanulas, and various irises. When I installed my first vegetable garden, I kept vigilant watch as tomato flowers turned to red fruits and as plump white blossoms on twining vines segued to delicious sugar snap peas. I noticed how spicy-scented beach roses became spangled with stout orange hips in autumn. I kept an orchid on my windowsill at work and cheered when it actually bloomed. Through all these travels and observations, I accumulated knowledge about the ways of plants and their flowers.
I studied botany informally via mentors, as well as in college classrooms. And I was fortunate to work as an editor at Horticulture Magazine during its Boston glory days, when the issues were monthly and thick with fascinating information and ideas. Everywhere I went or lived, I habitually gardened and acquainted myself with the plants around me, both wild and cultivated.
My path is not necessarily unique. If the world of plants holds sway in your affections, you probably have comparable stories. Perhaps over a lifetime you too have accumulated impressions and information about flowers and plants.
But it was not until I beheld Bob Llewellyn’s gorgeous, meticulous photographs of flowers that I truly understood how little I understood. This is not a case of “the veil of the familiar” clouding my perceptions. His photographs are different, unconventional. They actually comprise many small images—eight to forty-five—shot at a different point of focus, then stitched together using software developed for work with microscopes. The results are astoundingly detailed, intimate images of the plants we thought we knew.
To take you on a journey through these remarkable views of flowers and flowering plants, this book is organized into a broad sampling of twenty-eight plant families. This is not arbitrary, but rather a way into a world both strange and familiar. Taxonomic botanists, all the way back to the innovative, diligent Carl Linnaeus, have long observed similarities between plants and grouped like ones together, primarily using the features of the flowers. Revisions, additions, and reshufflings have inevitably occurred—and continue to occur.
In recent years, the advent of genetic research—referencing the DNA sequences of plants—has revolutionized and, arguably, greatly simplified the classification work. You may never have heard of the APG, or Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, but it and its subsequent updates (as of this writing, we’re on APG III) have made significant progress. Some of the rulings verify what the naked eye and/or microscopes have shown all along, while others are surprising. Some long-established plant families have suffered splits, while others have been submerged, making the work at times controversial. And yet it reflects the onward march of botanical knowledge.
The aim of Seeing Flowers is not to get mired down in the finer points of classification. Rather, it is to allow plant lovers, or anyone driven by curiosity about plants, to follow Bob’s remarkable photographs and witness this world in fresh ways. Common to most flowers are features such as petals and the sepals that support them, plus the sexual organs that offer pollen to pollinators and eventually develop into seeds and fruit. I hope you will discover, as I did when I looked through these photographs, a sense to it all. As varied, weird, wonderful, sexy, and graceful as flowers are, ultimately they have always been the plant world’s supremely resourceful way of staying alive.
In each chapter I acquaint you with a plant family by exploring its distinguishing characteristics and providing examples, some of which are also presented in Bob’s amazing photographs. As I researched and wrote these chapters, I found fascinating relations, intricacies, exceptions, tales, and tidbits. I share them in the hope that they will expand your appreciation, as they did for me.
Once upon a time, as the late naturalist Loren Eiseley reminds us in his lyrical essay “How Flowers Changed the World,” there were no flowering plants, or angiosperms. The earliest plants arose near water, which aided fertilization and thus reproduction. Later plants (gymnosperms), such as primitive conifers and spore-bearing ferns, depended on wind. The advent of true flowers and the seeds they produced was, as Eiseley declares, “a profound innovation.”
Angiosperm means “encased seed,” an astonishing item that grows in the heart of a flower. Here an embryonic plant is developed, and soon it falls, floats away, ejects, is eaten, or grabs onto fur or clothing, and thus survives and expands its realm. But before this can occur, a flower must be pollinated. Pollination is the ambitious goal of all flowers. Bear this in mind as you view and learn more about the enticements, trickery, shortcuts, and quirks they use. There is plenty of variety, but also a common and practical purpose.
Angiosperms have indeed changed the world. They have populated it explosively, greatly outnumbering the more primitive gymnosperm plants. They feed and thus support the planet’s insects, birds, and animals. And they also they fill our world with incomparable beauty, especially with their flowers.
I now invite you—with Bob’s glorious, innovative photographs to contemplate—to see flowers, in all their diversity, for what they are: wonders.

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