Allium and the joy of flowers

By Ingrid Fetell Lee


I’ve been writing more than a little about the notion of the absurd as a route to joy lately, and as far as absurd flowers go, the allium pretty much takes the cake. Poofy, sparkly orbs, disproportionately large yet still light and airy atop impossibly tall, straight stems — the allium looks like something that would grow on a newly discovered planet. Its family heritage is no less comical: the cheery allium is actually a variant of the onion, presenting a globe above ground while its cousin hides one below.

The allium is one flower that never fails to make me smile. But of course there are many joyful flowers. Poppies, with their irrational exuberance — bright, fragile, and abundant. Peonies, which are perhaps more stately, but lavish with their fragrance and the endless layers of petals that unfurl implausibly from those tight, hard buds. Lilacs, which appear in an intoxicating fog of scent, offering a pure glut of sensation for only a few weeks. Tulips, too, with their early spring color and their way of opening themselves so wide as to practically turn inside out, offering all before going bare for another year.

The whole idea of the flower is joyful. It is an alluring spectacle, an unfurling of vibrant energy, both excessive and necessary. Color, pattern, scent, texture, intricacy of design — in the flower, nature spared no aesthetic expense. Surely she could have evolved other (more efficient) ways for plants to reproduce, but how lucky we are that flowers evolved to be the dominant means!

June 30th, 2009


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