Thousands of years ago, when people began living closer together and sanitation was less effective, the fragrance of plants and flowers helped us mask our own stench. Roses were hybridized for their perfume. In the modern world, visual appearance is the main attraction to flowers and two groups of flowering plants have formed a mutualistic relationship with humans: orchids and epiphyllums.
Orchids are ancient flowering plants; species are found all over the world–typically with small flowers.
The ancestral plants of epiphyllums live in the forest of Central and South America. While their flowers are fairly large, coloring is minimal because their pollinators are usually nocturnal creatures–bats and moths.
Both orchids and epiphyllums are epiphytic plants. They depend on another plant host to provide a safe location up off of the forest floor. Their seeds settle into the debris caught in the crouch of a tree branch and the epiphytic plant lives happily with little soil on the rain water and nutrients washing off its host.
Living on the fringes of established plants seems to have required an ability to be flexible, to have genetic options. People admired the natural flowers of both these plants, but then found we could selectively breed these plants to create flowers with varying colors, sizes, and shapes. Growing epiphyllums
Both orchids and epiphyllums have amazing diversity.
See Orchid bloom diversity
See Epiphyllum bloom diversity
People have stepped in to replace the forest trees. We provide tended pots and protected patios. We have taken the place of host plants and the genetic plasticity of orchids and epiphyllums has enabled us to create a broad spectrum of hybridized plants with spectacular blooms.
Would these hybrid plants continue to exist in a world without human partners? It is a fascinating question. Could they adapt and attract another evolutionary partner? If there were no flowers, what would we find beautiful? What would take their place?