Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower–but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is. — Alfred Lord Tennyson, Flower in the Crannied Wall
I love flowers. I love taking pictures of flowers. They amaze me because of their beauty, but that’s only where love starts; not where it ends.
Imagine: a flower depending on bees (as well as other insects) for pollination! Bees depend collectively on the flower for their continued existence. What we see now are two groups of living beings, from very different parts of the Great Tree of Life, who have “learned” (mainly in an evolutionary sense) that they are better off working as partners.
I can see why it’s tempting for some people to look at this as a “proof” of an active God who created all of creation in a relative eye blink. To me, though, it’s even more wonderful to contemplate that this collaboration took work and accommodation on both sides; that it evolved over time; that is still evolving. And with each step, is there something analogous to trust that accumulates in both flower and bee?
There are, after all, plants who eat insects; e.g., the Honeydew, Venus Fly-trap, and Pitcher Plant. So, if we look at it from the plant’s perspective, it might be a huge windfall to be the most beautiful and attractive flower imaginable and to eat every last honeybee in one summer. The plant would “win” a windfall of nitrogen. Similarly, we can imagine a bee-like insect who comes to the plant and rather than simply “gathering pollen,” it devours the entire plant. Lots of calories.
That one year.
Of course, next year, there would be no such plants to eat or even gather pollen from. Of course, it isn’t only flowers and bees who have such an arrangement. It’s all over the place!
Collaboration and cooperation are not just features of the ecosystem, of course. The flower may be the most beautiful and showy part of a “flowering plant,” but it not the only part. The roots are just as vital as is the stem as are the leaves as are the flowers. They are in balance. All are important. And, in a way, each has its own beauty.
Back to the bees though — what could be a more intimate form of cooperation? The flower actually depends on the bee to fulfill its sexual roles! The flower is associated with sexual love in many ways and in many different societies. And sexual reproduction, whether by flower, bee, or human is implicitly saying to the universe, indeed, shouting, whispering, and singing to the universe: “There is still more; there is still something better to strive for; an individual such as never has existed before and a species that will continue to explore what is possible. Life will not end with my life. I am a part of all life that ever has existed or ever will exist. Yes!”
Not bees, nor humans, nor even roses are a timeless inviolate and changeless perfection of form and function that never again needs to change. The essence of life is change balanced with stability. Change by itself is chaos. And stability without change is delusional. More accurately, it’s delusional to start with, but ultimately it is death. Any system, person, species, government, town, institution that declares itself perfect and unchangeable regardless of circumstances is a system, person, species, government, town, institution that has just signed its own death warrant.
Every part of the plant is important. And every part receives benefit. Everyone in human society benefits from the work of the whole but not everyone receives benefit. If a flower neglects its roots, or its stems, or its leaves, the whole plant will die. For our society to survive, it must change. And one of the changes near the top of that list is to make our society more fair. If we don’t, the whole flower of our civilization will die. As will the bees.