Plant and flower shapes

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What makes flowers so beautiful? Why are some leaves curly, others spiky, and others flat? Bridget Kendall brings together a panel of three experts who have some answers to nature's mysteries.
Enrico Coen is a professor of plant genetics who has been running computer simulations of how plant cells turn from bud to bloom. He's found some simple rules of nature and, joining forces with Rob Kesseler, Professor of Ceramic Art & Design at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design, and PhD student Tilly Eldridge, used them to create some original "organic" objects of his own at his lab at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.
Andrew Zuckerman is a photographer from New York who's got up close and personal with some of the world's most wonderful flowers in his quest to capture the essence of a flower's shape in a single photograph, shot against a plain, white background.
And ecology professor Lars Chittka helps us understand nature through the eyes of a bee, that much-coveted pollinator, which is attracted to a flower by symmetry, colour and scent. An expert in the relationships between plants and other creatures, Professor Chittka founded the Research Centre for Psychology at Queen Mary, University of London. Photo by Andrew Zuckerman (Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple

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28 minutes

Last on

Sat 23 Feb 2013 11:00

Enrico Coen

Enrico Coen
Professor of Plant Genetics, Enrico Coen runs his own lab at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. His computer simulations of how plant cells turn buds into blooms are revealing that all the apparent complexity may come down to rules which are surprisingly simple.

Self-making Pots by Enrico Coen and Tilly Eldridge

Self-making Pots by Enrico Coen and Tilly Eldridge
Self-making pots by Enrico Coen and Tilly Eldridge ‘grown’ according to the same rules which govern plant growth. The intersection between science and culture is something that Enrico has been exploring in recent years. 

Andrew Zuckerman

Andrew Zuckerman
Noted New York photographer and filmmaker, Andrew Zuckerman makes intimate portraits of animals, people and flowers set against his signature white background. He says that this distinctive approach allows him to remove subjects from their context and enables a larger conversation between them

Andrew Zuckerman: Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple

Andrew Zuckerman: Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple
Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple (Datura)  Photo Credit: Andrew Zuckerman 

Andrew Zuckerman: Jade Vine

Andrew Zuckerman: Jade Vine
Jade Vine
Photo Credit: Andrew Zuckerman 

Andrew Zuckerman: Darwin's Star Orchid

Andrew Zuckerman: Darwin's Star Orchid
Darwin's Star Orchid
Photo Credit: Andrew Zuckerman 

Lars Chittka

Lars Chittka
Professor Lars Chittka is the founder of the Research Centre for Psychology at Queen Mary, University of London. One of the things that he studies at his lab is the way plants interact with other creatures, especially pollinators such as bees, which turns out to be quite a complex relationship of mutual evolutionary influences.

60 Second Idea

Biologist Lars Chittka suggests that we use genetic engineering to breed hybrid and fantasy creatures that human imagination has spawned, from Greek mythology through fairy tales, e.g. mermaids, minotaurs, centaurs, gnomes. On Earth, there are no more new continents with strange life forms to discover and we are a long way from exploring alien life, so in the meantime, to combat boredom, we should invent our own life forms and shapes.

Poem by listener Catherine Diamond inspired by the original World Service edition of the programme

The Language of Flowers

by Catherine Diamond

A rose maybe a rose maybe a rose

to Juliet and her lover’s nose

but not to the flower itself

that doesn’t know a phylum from a family

but may hold secrets of different kind

known only to the members of its tribe.

 

For all we know, one red-petaled wonder

may choose to love another

overwhelmed by mysterious passion

that defies reason and practical promiscuity.

 

Perhaps it’s not just the instinct to breed

or selection for survival alone

that guides the union of two plants;

perhaps not all is left to chance

and even in the vegetal world.

flowers have their own language of romance.

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