Why are we aesthetically pleased by flowers?

Individual preferences aside,we - as a species - are on the whole predisposed to like the look of flowers. We grow them, show them off, paint them, photograph them and replicate their images in fabrics and paintings. We even name people after them.


Evidently there is something pretty about flowers, but what is the root cause of their attraction?

  1. It’s not about us. Flowers are designed to be pretty for insects; the fact that they appeal to us is a coincidental accident of that fact - whatever works for bugs works for us too.

  2. It’s subconsciously sexual. Flowers indicate fertility, kind of literally. On some really murky level, when we see flowers we think ‘heh - fucking, nice…’ This explains why only girls are named after flowers; ‘Rose’, ‘Daisy’ etc. are all subconscious nods towards sexual fertility.

  3. Flowers, much like other ‘beautiful nature’ tropes, indicate that the local geographic area is fertile and rich in nutrients/fruit/whatever and is therefore a good place to stick around. Our ancestors might not have known the gritty details, but it would have been good enough to know that a place with flowers is a better place to stick around than a place without them.

  4. Flowers aren’t ‘meant’ to be pretty - nature hasn’t made them how they are to us for any evolutionary advantage, and we haven’t evolved to like them for any particular reason either. Rather, they have evolved that way for their own reasons, and we simply admire them as examples of nature being exquisite for its own sake.

None of these theories totally work for me…

  1. Our minds are too different to those of bumble-bees - we don’t have anything else in common, why on earth would attraction to floral aesthetics be the only one? Plus, bugs see things totally differently to us anyway; what we would consider to be a beautiful chrysanthemum would look like a hellish hallucinatory nightmare when viewed through the eyes of a horsefly.

  2. My 3-year-old daughter thinks that flowers are pretty - she doesn’t know about sex yet. ‘Flowers=fertility’ is a fairly advanced concept requiring scientific education and metaphoric interpretation which not everyone would get; it’s more universal than that, and I’m pretty sure that people were appreciating flowers before they knew that this was nature’s version of a floral tramp-stamp.

  3. (evolutionary psychology is always a stretch, and in any case - just because a place has flowers doesn’t mean that it is habitable). The weeds at the front of my house have flowers - the flowers themselves are pretty, the weeds they grow out of aren’t. Yes, I suppose that flowers indicate that the ground is hydrated and nourished enough to support them (and therefore other things which might be helpfully consumed by humans) - but people don’t eat flowers, a few exceptions notwithstanding.

  4. Humans have paid homage to the image of flowers much more than most other tropes of nature. We are impressed by all sorts of biological phenomena, but when it comes to flowers we take it to the next level as a species; not many people wear fabrics decorated with images of DNA, for instance. Little old ladies don’t wear dresses with ‘sunset over the Andes’ patterns on them, and girls aren’t named ‘solar eclipse’ or ‘aurora borealis’ very often.

I’m leaving this one open to the floor… thanks in advance :slight_smile:

Pretty is just pretty.

Do you wonder the same thing about sunsets or majestic mountains? :slight_smile:

I see these as very separate things.

I’m awed by mountains, and the sea while we’re at it, because of their sheer scale.

Thinking flowers are pretty is another thing entirely.

Did you read the whole post or just its title?

For what it’s worth, I’ve wondered about this, too. My best guess is that we like extreme stimulation of our senses, and flowers are much more brightly-colored than most things in nature. And most of the other natural phenomena which are similarly bright-colored, like rainbows, are also considered beautiful.

Perhaps simply because, on a daily basis, it’s such a nice package of shape/symmetry and color?

Our brains probably developed largely seeing the same tones; browns, tans, greens. Flowers were novel, and our brains likes that stimulation. We have plenty of artificial color in our lives now, but our brains still see flowers as special.

I am not an expert on evolution, or pretty much anything.

Flowers are designed to be pretty so that we want to plant them, and we thereby play our role in the biological survival of everybody - we plant food, or for ornamental only plants we plant them to create our air, feed our worms, give us healthy and fertile soil to get our vegetable matter food. The prettiness is an “incentive” to make us.

I read somewhere that babies look like that because people like it and it makes people want to look after them. Those big heads are a “thing” that gets us all nurturing. Pretty flowers are a “thing” that motivates us to hit the garden and stick some plants in. It’s a biological motivator to have a green and productive world with good air and not a barren desert.

Plants that need cows to eat them and then poo the seeds all over are attractive to cows. The attractant for us is the pretty flowers.

Maybe. Or not. I’ve no idea :smiley:

Surrounding yourself with useless luxuries demonstrates that you are wealthy enough to devote resources to things beyond basic survival. Which indicates that, in a crisis, you will not be the first to starve.

I suspect that you, too, only read the title of the OP.

That’s silly. You can’t eat flowers.

I read the whole post–I’m not as impressed with your raw speculations and sweeping generalizations as you seem to be. I agree with other posters–I see no reason why humans finding flowers beautiful is a seperate question from why humasns find anything beautiful–seashells, shiny metal, sparkly rocks, walls or cloth with pigments smeared on them, carved pieces of wood or bone or elephant tooth–there is any number of things that people find beautiful. I don’t know why, but I don’t see any reason to unbundle flowers into a different category with a different explaination.

What an interesting question!! I had pondered on this too and am adding my observations :

  1. Peppers are unpalatable to mammals but are very likable by birds. The pepper plants evolved to do this because birds help spread their seeds. So if it was to plants benefit to not attract mammals to flowers, many plants possibly would have done so. I know of only one flower (Carrion flower) that smells like rotting flowers which does so.

  2. Mammals may have helped pollinate flowers by smelling flowers in succession on close quarters. Thus attracting mammals may have been beneficial to the plants.

  3. I have watched (on video) apes like chimpanzees eating flowers. Back in India where I grew up, we would eat battered and fried pumpkin and squash flowers. So maybe we like them because it signals food ?

Actually, many of them you can.
Goldenrod is rich in vitamins. Dandelions are a big ingredient in Polk salad. And there is dandelion wine. Alfalfa sprouts.

But they aren’t major food crops, because for efficient production of food, we have selectively bred plants which put the majority of their energy into growing the edible parts rather than pretty flowers. (They don’t need the pretty flowers to insure they reproduce; we farmers take care of that.= for them.) For example, Queen Ann’s Lace is a pretty plant, often used in bouquets. But we plant & harvest the versions that put more effort into the root, called carrots. Many others of our food crops have been bred by humans the same way.

Since this requires speculation, let’s move it to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes also come to mind.

In my opinion…

We, humans, are visual creatures. We love colors that stand out. In the ocean of herbal leaf-green and bark-brown, it’s a pleasure to see purple, yellow, violet, red, pink flowers. It’s also pleasure to see butterfly’s wings or sky at sunset. Nothing else in the nature can match it; animal fur does not contain so vivid colors, rainbows are appearing only occasionaly, colorful sea creatures are rarely seen in our daily environment, beautiful minerals are not everywhere, some bugs and spiders might be colorful but humans will feel repulsion towards their body plan.

So, flowers. Their appearance also contains symmetry or nice mathematical progression. And they smell nice. Nothing else in nature smells that nice.

A book titled, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan may help answer the question. Can’t say. Haven’t read it.

I think it does have to do with color–as mentioned in the OP, even young children are attracted to them.

But I also think it has to do with symmetry. Humans seem to appreciate symmetry & the geometrical flower appeals to our love of symmetry. I can stare at a flower hypnotically admiring it’s geometric symmetrical designs–even if it’s a black & white photo.

So you’ve got vibrant colors, geometric designs, & they smell good too. Another factor is that (depending on where you live), they signal the end of winter & coming of warmer weather, so there’s that positive association too.

I think the main reason is simply that they display bright colours that are otherwise rare in nature. We also love sunsets, for instance.

If nobody else does, yes - I do. I wonder why we find ‘a lovely view’ to be lovely. I wonder why we find fireworks to be spectacular. I think these are interesting questions - it’s obvious why a ripe apple looks good to us - it’s not so obvious why a red rose looks pretty to us.