On Being Green

Toward a sustainable future

Flowers for Valentine's Day

Could there be anything more romantic than a dozen red roses? Why is that?

Our attraction to flowers may have evolutionary roots. According to the biophilia hypothesis, attending to the environment would have been adaptive when we were evolving into our current form. Flowers would signal a fertile environment, one in which fruit- and nut-bearing plants might be present, one in which there was sufficient water. Who knows? At a subconscious level, bringing flowers to a sweetheart might have been a way of communicating an intention to provide the resources needed so she wouldn’t have to work too hard; telling her that she would live in pleasant and verdant surroundings.

Perhaps we intuitively understand that there is a link between environmental health and human health. Increasing research shows that natural environments enhance mental and physical well-being, and it may be that ecologically healthy environments are healthier for humans than threatened ones. This connection is not just wishful thinking on the part of tree-huggers. A recent report from the Forest Service, described in an article in the Atlantic, notes that people were more likely to die of cardiovascular and respiratory problems in counties where trees were killed by the emerald ash borer. The relationship was not explained by demographic differences. Stress is not the only threat to well-being that a healthy environment can reduce. 

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Flowers may signal your desire to provide a healthy environment for your beloved and keep him or her healthy as well. Worth remembering, though, is that there are many environmental hazards

associated with the commercial flower industry. It’s a meaningful gesture to provide something rare and lovely for your sweetheart. It’s even better to do it in a way that protects the healthy environments we value.

 

Susan Clayton, Ph.D., is the Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster.

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