We've long associated flowers with love, innocence, charity, virtue and death, but above all, they're synonymous with beauty. Flowers stand out and demand our attention. For centuries, their delicate shape, vibrant hues and alluring fragrances have served as one of our primary examples of what is attractive.
But which flowers are the prettiest? The answer is subjective, of course, but that isn't going to stop anyone from naming his or her favorites!
We decided to trim down the list of the world's most beautiful flowers to the absolute essentials. There are some classic favorites, a few unique beauties and one or two surprises.
Staring at the royal bloom on the next page has been compared to looking directly at the sun.
King Protea flowers are unique -- even bizarre -- but they're also undeniably beautiful. The rare, oversized bulb appears as a brightly colored, petaled orb, but once the bloom opens, it resembles a shining star or an elaborate crown.
The King Protea is so striking, in fact, that it stands out in any arrangement, regardless of the accompanying flowers. Its colors range from creamy white to dark red, being generally lighter at the base and darkening steadily toward the petals' tips. Though the evergreen shrub originated in South Africa (where the blooms hold the honor of being the country's national flower), it's now grown all over the world. Make a special request far in advance if you want to feature King Protea at a dinner party -- it's not readily available in many flower shops.
Rocky Mountain Columbine
The delicate blue hue of the Rocky Mountain Columbine, also known as the Colorado Columbine, makes it truly one of the most beautiful blooms in existence. It doesn't have a lot of flash like the King Protea or elegant lines like the calla lily, but chances are if you imagine a simple, beautiful flower, something very close to the Rocky Mountain Columbine will come to mind. With its long, thin stem and lavender and white petals, the flower radiates natural, uncomplicated beauty -- and it's all the more remarkable for it!
Sunflowers make people happy, and with good reason. These large, bright blooms are so cheerful, they simply can't be ignored, and a single flower has the power to light up whatever space it's in, be it an old kitchen or an abandoned field.
Sunflowers have been cultivated in the Americas for more than 4,000 years, though the flower quickly spread in Europe after it was imported by colonists in the 16th century. The large, bright flower now enjoys worldwide popularity and is recognized as symbol of happiness across the globe.
Cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japan, though the tree can now be found in many parts of the world, including the United States and Canada. Regardless of their location, the delicate beauty of cherry blossoms can't be understated. The flowers bloom by the thousands, transforming the trees into explosions of soft hues, with white and pink blooms burgeoning off every branch.
However, the beauty is fleeting; cherry blossoms typically survive for just a week. During that week, the entire world stops to notice the flower with festivals taking place to celebrate the cherry blossom everywhere from Tokyo to Washington, D.C.
Pink whirls, or Osteospermum, are extraordinarily beautiful flowers that resemble pink pinwheels from an alien planet. The blooms have a striking blue and yellow center that's surrounded by purple and pink petals that are wide around the base, then turn tubular before opening back up at the tip in a spoon- or cup-like shape.
These unusual blooms are a form of African daisy, but don't expect to find them at your local florist, as their strange beauty isn't yet appreciated by the masses (at least on this planet).
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley is a favorite bloom of brides. These dainty white bells have long been associated with innocence and feminine beauty. Their fragrance is strong and alluring with a very sweet odor, making these flowers the most appealing members of the lily family.
Just be sure to keep lily of the valley away from little fingers and paws -- the elegant blooms are also quite dangerous. All parts of the plant, from stem to seed, are poisonous.
All varieties of orchids are beautiful, but the wildcat orchid has the distinction of being both attractive and really, really groovy.
Yes, from a distance, the flower looks like a regular orchid in a tie-dye T-shirt. But up close, the molted-burgundy-on-bright-yellow bloom appears hypnotic and striking, like the pattern on an as-yet-undiscovered big cat. It's one of the most unusual colorings in the orchid family (of which there are more than 20,000 species), and this particular variation is a hybrid of mixed orchid parentage. Your local florist may not have a dozen wildcat blooms ready to go, but it's possible to find the flower online.
Calla lilies are arguably the most elegant of all blooms. Like a swan's neck, the thick stem of the calla lily hoists up the graceful flower's head, which consists of a single, white oblong-shaped petal that resembles a basin. The plant's leaves are large, waxy and arrow-shaped, and they can grow to nearly 2 feet below the flower.
The calla lily is indigenous to South Africa, where it's considered little more than a weed. Though the plant grows as a perennial in the tropical climate and ample humidity of its native land, it's considered an annual in much of the United States because of the lily's inability to withstand chilly winters.
White Egret Orchid
The white egret orchid is one of the world's most unique flowers and only grows indigenously in the rice fields of Japan. The flower's petals divide and split off to the side, much like the wings of a bird. Even more amazingly, the tips of the petal-wings are fringed, giving the flower an uncanny resemblance to feathers. The bloom widens where the petals split, forming the shape of a head. To look at the white egret orchid, you'd be convinced of the unmistakable resemblance to a soaring bird.
As you can imagine, these beautiful, rare blooms are expensive. And gardeners be warned: They're not for beginning horticulturalists. Because its indigenous habitat is frequently flooded, the white egret orchid requires frequent, heavy watering and constant temperature monitoring. For those with the funds and the patience, these little blooms provide a one-of-a kind floral experience.
What else could top this list but a rose?
Roses have been admired for centuries, and as any lovesick fool at a flower shop will tell you, their reputation as the prettiest flower isn't going to be challenged anytime soon. Roses have stood as symbols of love, friendship, fidelity, death and war, and while they're most known as representations of romantic love, they still convey those other messages (except for war).
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but we're glad this beautiful, ever-popular bloom can multitask as well as it does. Otherwise, we'd have no idea what to give our loved ones.
A new website is designed to bring farmers and heirloom seeds together. HowStuffWorks takes a look at why seed saving is more important than ever.
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