The Magical Power of Flowers

This afternoon, my friend Ray told me about the magical power of giving flowers as gifts. He and his wife Estelle volunteer at a women’s prison and regularly bring flowers as gifts for the women.

He said that the women treat the flowers differently from other gifts they receive. They keep them. Other gifts become commodities, good for trading for other items, but not the flowers. They hold onto the flowers. They wear them in their hair, they dry them, they press them and keep them.

We debated why this might be. Because they’re impermanent? Because they’re beautiful? Because they are a piece of nature in an otherwise stark place? We couldn’t quite nail down why this might be. We decided that it might be a mysterious combination of all three things.

Later, I remembered some research I’d seen from Rutgers University here in New Jersey. This research shows that there is some science behind this.

Experiments Prove That Receiving Flowers Lifts our Spirits

In a scientifically-designed experiment, women were given one of the following gifts:

1) A mixed-flower bouquet of roses and lilies

2) A fruit and sweets basket

3) A large multi-wicked candle on a stand

Zinnia Bouquet


The Results – Flowers Have Effects on Brain Chemistry

The study showed that women who received the flowers responded 100% of the time with what’s called the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a particular kind of smile that has links to changes in brain chemistry. The results of the experiment showed that the simple presentation of flowers, even a single flower, releases a strong and immediate positive affect. They concluded that it is possible that flowers have effects on brain chemistry.



In addition, the only gift that elicited a long-term lift in mood was the flowers. The experimenters went on to do other research that further reiterated the puzzling strength of the effect of receiving flowers. Those results showed that giving flowers was almost as powerful for men. They also showed that the increase in positive emotion is substantial and that this mood lift could be sustained by additional gifts of flowers.

What’s the magical ingredient? Fragrance, color, symmetry?

Theories suggested that we have learned associations with flowers, or that there might be some sort of evolutionary food association. Another theory postulated that the sensory combination of fragrance, color, phermones and symmetry combined to give flowers super powers – a quadruple whammy of pleasure.



Pleasure is the Only Rule

They offer us something that, until recently, wasn’t considered necessary for survival: pleasure.




Or maybe the flowers are way smarter than we think. This is the idea behind co-evolution. They need us to survive, so they’ve evolve to please us so we’ll take care of them, distribute them, plant them, pass on their seeds. If that’s the case, I think their plan is working!






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