Flower power

Science is not all about what happened millions of years ago, insights into the structure of matter, or new methods of space travel. Sometimes, science is about very down-to-earth things…like the effect of receiving flowers on our emotional well-being–and how to keep those flowers fresher after we receive them.

Flower-giving is a natural topic for me this week because a) as I write this, it’s Valentine’s Day and b) I’m married and c) I’d like to stay that way.

We’ve been giving flowers as gifts and using them for decoration since at least the days of the ancient Chinese and Romans. Flowers are really modified leaves, and also, of course, the reproductive organs of the plants on which they grow. That’s probably why we’re attracted to them (and no, I’m not suggesting anything kinky). Flowering plants and their fruits provide most of the food for us and other animals. Flowering plants, meanwhile, need animals for pollination and to disperse their seeds.

But that’s not very romantic, so how about this: Jeannette Haviland-Jones, director of the Human Development Lab at Rutgers University, found in three studies between 2000 and 2005 that giving flowers makes people happier and more sociable.

In one 10-month study, she and her team found that their study participants (all female) responded with true smiles and reported positive moods that lasted for days when given flowers.

In a second study, women and men who were alone were unexpectedly given a flower in an elevator by a researcher. Both women and men demonstrated increased eye contact in conversation, stood in closer proximity to the researchers, and produced more and truer smiles than people who did not receive flowers.

Finally, a third study showed that senior citizens given flowers had improved moods and memory.

No matter how beautiful the flowers, it soon fades…but not as soon as it used to, at least not when growers and buyers follow the recommendations of Terril Nell, an environmental horticulturist who been part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences post-harvest floral program for more than 20 years.

In the past, fresh flowers kept their quality longer because they were sold in local markets not far from where they were grown. Quality and longevity began to suffer when the floral industry began shipping flowers by air to retailers, but Nell’s research may have turned that around.

What he’s found all boils down (although boiling down your flowers is not one of the recommendations) to tender loving care. The most important thing growers can do is to keep flowers cold as they move from the fields to the florists’ shop, Nell says, while consumers can extend vase life by two or three days simply by using properly mixed commercial flower foods and clean, sanitized containers.

Much of Nell’s research has focused on roses, because of their popularity. One common problem with roses is “bent neck,” in which the stem just below the flower bends and the flower wilts and fails to open as result. Bent neck usually shows up in the first three days after the rose is bought. Improved handling procedures have greatly reduced this problem over the last few years, Nell says, and his team hopes to have more recommendations to further reduce bent neck over the next couple of years.

For consumers, Nell’s recommendations are that rose buyers should look for freshly cut stems, then, when they get them home, re-cut the stems, put the flowers in a fresh vase, and use a commercial flower food. Roses should be kept in a cool place, away from heat vents and out of direct sunlight. Doing the same with lilies and alstromeria, Nell says, can help them keep their leaves green even after they’re in the vase. (Those two species have often been susceptible to leaf-yellowing in the past.)

According to at least one florist, Charles Kremp of Kremp Florists in Philadelphia, Nell’s work has enabled florists to offer people flown-in flowers that are of better quality and last longer than the ones that used to be grown and sold in the same general location.

Revolutionary, paradigm-breaking science? No.

But if flowers make us feel happier, think better and smile more, then maybe making flowers last a few days longer in the vase is just as important a scientific achievement as some of those that get the big headlines.

Flower power, indeed.

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/2006/02/flower-power-2/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Easy AdSense Pro by Unreal