Stone Age Flowers

New research from Stone Age graves near Haifa, Israel, has uncovered startling new findings that show the significance of flowers to our ancestors. Daniel Nadal, of Haifa University said:
"Before, you find a few isolated burials, but some Natufian sites have more than 100 skeletons in one confined area. That's a huge change."

The graves they uncovered were between 13,000 and 11,700 years old and contained fossilised impressions of sage and figworts in the mud surrounding their bodies.

Previous research in 2010 discovered that the Natufia were the first to include feasts as part of the funeral, this marked a major change in how ancient man treated the dead, and reflects and changing attitude to death itself.

Industrial Revolution Flowers

Flowers retained a place in our consciousness for many thousands of years but it wasn’t until the late 19th century and the Industrial Revolution that it became a global industry. Among the first major growers for export was Great Britain, with vast private estates given over to flower production.

By the 1940’s artificial lighting and indoor growing techniques revolutionized the industry and saw it blossom worldwide. Starting in America, it soon became possible to get a wide variety of flowers all year round.

This saw the global trade rocket from roughly $3 billion in 1950 to over $100 billion in 1992, current estimates vary wildly but conservative estimates put the current trade at around $200 billion and rising.

Much of this rise was due to the production in Netherlands rocketing from the early 1970’s, and today they remain one of the most iconic producers of cut flowers, particularly the tulip.

The Meaning of Flowers

Over the vast history of humans and flowers there have been some dramatic changes in how we use them in everyday life, and the meanings we attach to them.

As we have seen with the Stone Age practice of laying sage and figwort at graves the perceived meaning of flowers can and does change throughout history, and often as required.

Before the global trade in flowers, certain blooms were given specific meanings and their use was particularly clear. This was because the selection at the time was limited and the symbolism behind each flower was readily understood.

With the year-round availability of flowers that we enjoy today the meanings are flexible and vaguely defined between cultures. For example, the carnation has adopted several different meanings depending on the colour and situation;

pink - gratitude
red - flashy
striped - refusal
white - remembrance
yellow – cheerful

The Future Of Flowers

The supermarket era has brought flowers into the modern home more readily and more cheaply than ever. In the UK over 70% of cut flowers bought in 2012 came from supermarkets, this has pushed production to the limit in the hunt for cheaper imports.

The emerging markets are starting to benefit from the burgeoning demand, notably India, Ethiopa, and Kenya. Increased demand however comes at a cost and the working conditions in the African nations can include working up to 15 days in the fields.

This leaves the working conditions in the hands of the major supermarkets and other importers, something that does not sit well with many industry experts. The issue of transporting flowers and CO2 production has been disproven however, a study in 2006 showed that flowers from Kenya actually produced 6 times lower the emissions than Dutch blooms due to the high amounts of electricity required to grow in Europe.

Cutting Edge Flowers

With supermarkets pushing flower producers ever further many people look for more environmentally sustainable alternatives. Silk flowers have long been popular in commercial settings and as clothing accessories.

Van Gogh began his “Sunflowers” collection in 1887, highlighting how popular and widespread flowers had become. Today you can buy almost as many varieties of floral prints and posters as there are flowers, with the internet making it easier than ever to get your favourite flowers delivered direct to your door.