Come rain or shine, flowers feature perennially in the landscape of human history. Their beauty has inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature, captivating creative minds from Wordsworth to Van Gogh, Botticelli to Beatrix Potter. Flowers have also played a key part in forming the past, and may even shape our future. Some have served as symbols of monarchs, dynasties and nations – from the Wars of the Roses to the Order of the Thistle. And while the poppy is often associated with WWI, it was the elderflower that treated its wounded soldiers, joining a long line of healing flowers that have developed modern medicine, including lavender and foxgloves. The right rose, according to the Victorian language of flowers, might mend a broken heart, while sunflowers may just save our planet. Stafford is Professor of English at the University of Oxford.