4 May

Map of the Week: April Showers Bring May Flowers

By Emily Frisan

The phrase “April showers bring May flowers” is a popular saying used often during the month of April, which linguists have debated its origin for its figurative and literal meaning. In North America, April is typically the time when the last bit of snow melts as temperatures climb, and increased rain showers spark the blossoming of flowers and plants. However, in terms of rain volume, April can actually be one of the driest months of the year. Rainfall is the result of a weather front or the boundary shared by two bodies of air, whereas rain showers are produced by cumulus or cumulonimbus clouds, with precipitation from these clouds rarely lasting longer than a few hours. Despite the phrase not reflecting the true seasonal weather conditions, it describes how a period of discomfort or hardship can provide the basis for a period of happiness and joy.

As you stop and smell the roses, do you ever consider the origins of your favorite species? 

Let’s take a look at this National Geographic map (above) from 1986 showcasing the emergence of flowers from around the world. As people migrated from one part of the world to another, they carried with them different plant species. Colonists carried seeds and bulbs to the New World and returned to their homelands with flowers from far-off places. In fact, some of the plant and flower species that have become iconic to certain countries did not always originate from their homes. First cultivated in Turkey, the tulip traveled from east to west, and in the 16th century, was brought to the province of Holland. Similarly, the “French” marigold arrived in Europe with the return of the conquistadors from Mexico. 

Flowering plants likely originated between 149 and 256 million years ago. In 1879, Charles Darwin described it as an “abominable mystery” that flowers had evolved so late in the history of life, yet were still able to take over from the more ancient seed-bearing pines and cycads. Since their emergence, flowering plants account for nine out of every 10 plants and maintain their beautiful presence on Earth. The aesthetic experience of flowers has become socially embedded and relational in human culture and has seeped into the symbolism of everyday life.