My favorite flower is the ranunculus. It’s right up there with peonies, which are second. They’re both big showy, many-petaled blooms, but the ranunculus keeps things tight while the peony is always on the verge of disaster. Ranunculus are tidy, controlled, elegant. Peonies are gregarious drunks, friends with everyone. Ranunculus grow on a tube stem (they’re part of the buttercup family), and don’t over-do it with the leaves. They’re the image of restraint. Peonies… well, peonies are blowsy. They are generous to a fault with frills, petals, leaves, stems going where you wouldn’t expect. They are joyful out loud.
I want to eat them when I see them. Both ranunculus and peonies (and roses, truthfully). There’s something about the fat flower, the smooth velvety leaves that are so delicate and so profuse. The marvel to behold and to touch. They are seemingly so solid, plump and lush. Consumption seems to be the next logical step. I have not eaten one, but when I am lucky enough to be around them, I find myself holding them to my face. It was work to not eat my way through my wedding bouquet.
This is the same triggering as the cute aggression that I have around newborns. I want to eat them up. Cute aggression is being so overwhelmed by positive emotions (like a cute baby) that the only release is violent impulse (eating). Cute aggression (or dimorphous expression if you’re fancy) is normal, and a way for our bodies and brains to regulate, since excessive positive emotion is as damaging to our bodies as negative emotion. Essentially, we bring ourselves back to neutral by wanting to consume our babies (and flowers).
I think there’s more there, though. Fresh flowers make me happy, no question, in a way that my (many) office plants don’t. My office greenery contents me, and I enjoy tending them. I’m pleased when they thrive. I’m annoyed when they falter. But the luxury and transience of fresh flowers, the very decadence make them special. Their brevity is a gift, with their inevitable fall into decay as fascinating as their first unfurling. They bestow triumph in exchange for their lives. You could close your eyes and sink into the rapture of fresh flowers.
The idea of consumption in order to absorb qualities isn’t new. There are fables a-plenty about eating the innocent young in order to replicate youth (and it’s a plot point for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet). It’s so old it’s new; you can this very day buy powdered pearls on Amazon to become a pearl (I guess). You can eat gold without much effort. We especially love describing things we consume as “virgin” for reasons we don’t really need to guess at.
So the question that a more introspective and thoughtful person would ask herself would have to be along the lines of whether I want to eat these flowers to retain youth, to regulate my own emotions, or perhaps something darker.
Acrophobia is the fear of heights (not the same as vertigo, but they can occur together). Heights are terrifying not just because they’re high, but also because when you’re close to the edge the terror makes you almost want to fling yourself off, to just be done with it. There’s a recklessness rooted in deep panic. The riotous soar, the inescapable fall, the final end. Is it not a bit the life of a cut flower? Snipped short, in more ways than one, to live a brilliant life that is brought to a sudden, inglorious end.
Fortunately for me, I am not introspective enough to ask these questions. Instead, I will continue to deeply appreciate fresh flowers as they come to me (rarely, and the more precious for it), and to take some measure of pleasure from resisting leaving but a pile of stems and leaves in my wake.