Has anyone else noticed all the outdoor sex recently?

I was walking through our three-acre prairie and had stopped to look closely at a blooming goldenrod. Crawling on top of the yellow inflorescence were two pairs of mating goldenrod soldier beetles. I looked for other goldenrods to see if similar orgies were taking place. 

To my right a pair of monarchs sailed by ten feet off the ground.  Their abdomens were connected in a post-nuptial coupling flight. They may stay attached for up to twelve hours until the sperm packet is transferred to the female.

Generally we think of spring as the time of rebirth. However, as summer wanes there is an urgency for further mating. Every night I can hear the pulsating rhythm of male crickets. They make their stridulations by rubbing their appendages together. You might think of them as fiddling to attract a potential mate.

All this sex afield had me thinking of how sex sells.

Perhaps no one knew this better than the famous 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. He was the creator of binomial nomenclature, the system of classifying and naming flora and fauna according to their genus and species. We call it an organism’s scientific name. 

While ascribing Latin names to plants and animals might seem dull and boring, Linneaus raised some eyebrows in 1737 when he publicly addressed what he called the sexual mores of flowers.

He described each plant as possessing male and female sexual organs. These would be the stamens (male) and the pistils (female). He liked to refer to them as the “husbands and wives.”

Linnaeus called it a “sexual system.” Without the help of radio, television or social media, his ideas spread through Europe quickly. Some academics and religious organizations were horrified; some scientists were jealous of his rising notoriety; and many biologists fully accepted this new system of classification.

I love this description Linneaus penned:

The flower’s leaves … serve as bridal beds which the creator has so gloriously arranged … and perfumed with so many soft scents that the bridegroom with his bride might there celebrate their nuptials with so much greater solemnity. When now the bed is so prepared, it is time for the bridegroom to embrace his beloved bride and offer her his gifts. 

As I headed back to the house I made sure my route would pass the cherry tomato plants in our garden. I plucked a plump tomato from the vine, pinched off a basil leaf from a nearby bed and wrapped the leaf around the tomato. I admired the red and green marriage before I slipped the morsel into my mouth. I slowly bit down, mulling the sweet acidic tomato with the pop of basil spice. 

How would Linnaeus describe it? I like to think he would call the union of basil and tomato a blissful wedding where the act of my love bite culminates in a state of ecstasy.

Like Linneaus, I hope I haven’t tainted your image of the garden’s innocent treasures.

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