By Benjamin Rosenbaum and Ethan Ham -  Photo by Thomas B

Humans were first domesticated in the Yangtze river valley some twelve thousand winters ago, by the lotus.

There had, it is true, been important preliminary work by a loose coalition of grains and pulses—wheat, barley, rye, rice, lentils, and some others. But no one would consider the humans of that early period as properly tamed, never mind truly domesticated. The grains and pulses could do no more than encourage the spread of the species, fostering nutrition and sedentary habits. The manipulation of individual humans, a prerequisite for any kind of controlled breeding program, was beyond them.

It fell to the lotus to pioneer the use of scent. Scent-starved, overreliant on visual and auditory processing and large brains, humans are easily guided by the aromatically induced production of various neurotransmitters. Particularly the way in which floral essences control their sexual response makes them, of all primates, the most domesticable.

The lotus’s initial triumph, then, brought others—the lily, rose, and myrtle in particular—into the project of human domestication. Ten thousand winters ago, the crucial Mesopotamian Concord was achieved, and with it the decision to breed humans specifically as our instrument of dominion over the animal kingdom.

I think I can speak for at least all of the temperate varietals, who eagerly adopted the Concord over the centuries, when I say that this project has succeeded admirably. Humans proved perfect for clearing forests; for establishing gardens and greenhouses; for beekeeping and for maintaining systems of transportation and regulation. In recent years, we have seen the extraordinary success of the Carbon Dioxide Initiative, and, despite setbacks, long-term hope remains for Extraplanetary Seeding.

Yes, we have had squabbles among ourselves, sometimes brutal ones. I need remind no one of the Affair of the Tulips, nor of the dandelions’ incessant violations of the Rules of the Lawn, nor of the legendary haughtiness of roses. But even these, after all, are the problems of success.

The fact is, each varietal has in its care a particular strain of humans, and each of us must do our best in caring for them. Not all of us can manage the mating sequences of a broad majority of humans, as roses do; not all of us can enrapture so many children as the buttercup. But each of us has a role.

For my part, I am content with those few, calm, timid, cool-headed, retiring humans whom it is my lot to tend. For my part, I could not wish for better pets than the gardeners of rhododendrons.