What got me thinking about fragrance? The first night that it was warm enough to leave the windows open I did, and every skunk in the neighborhood must have come and had a party on my lawn. The smell was enough to make me close the windows and reminded me of the day I accidentally stepped on a skunk cabbage shoot. Phew! But at least with its strange looking flower spathe, skunk cabbage warns you that something might be afoot. There are flowers that are very beautiful and smell almost as bad. Others have no fragrance at all, and some turn off your nose so you couldn’t smell them if you wanted to. This plant looks harmless enough, but skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has to get the award for the stinkiest plant of all-at least in these parts. Though both have an odor it is the leaves more than the flowers that reek the plant’s legendary odor when they are crushed or bruised. When trampled at first they smell like skunk but later the odor becomes much stronger and smells of rotting meat. Though it attracts many flies skunk cabbage is also the first plant to provide pollen to bumblebees in early spring. Black bears eat the plant in early spring to help get their digestive systems functioning again after their long winter sleep. Many have a picture in their mind of trilliums growing alongside a stream in a deeply shaded glen. Though some trilliums do prefer such situations, the red (or purple) trillium (Trillium erectum) grows right out in full sun, throwing out its chest and saying “Just look at me will ya!” And a look is all you should give this one whose common name is Stinking Benjamin. Some say it smells like rotting meat and others say an old wet dog. I never stick my nose in it, so I don’t worry about what it smells like. I smelled one once as a boy and knew right then that I had better things to do than put my nose in THOSE stinky things. As usual though nature has a plan, and our inability to understand it doesn’t make it any less of a plan. This trillium has pollen but no nectar so it wants to attract flies rather than bees, and with its rancid odor and color of rotting meat, it attracts plenty. This is also the wake robin we hear of in poems, heralding the advent of spring just like its red breasted namesake. Trilliums can take as long as 7 years to bloom, so they should never be picked.Violets (Viola sororia) have suddenly appeared in the lawn. I think of violets as I knew them in childhood; gathered and tied together with other colorful, sweet smelling things as a gift for my grandmother. Violets have a remarkable fragrance but many will only be teased by it. For about one third of the population violets can be smelled just once before a compound in the plant called ionone numbs the receptors in the olfactory system, leaving the poor flower sniffer unable to smell anything for a few minutes. If this happens to you, you shouldn’t worry that your nose is broken; before too long the ability to smell returns. This is the first year I’ve seen the sweet white violet (Viola blanda)in my yard. I hope it likes it here enough to stay. I’m going to just leave it alone and pretend I didn’t see it. Another beautiful stinker. Cherries, plums, and pears flower before they show many leaves, while flowering crabapples show leaves first. Since this one was blooming in a parking lot and had no leaves I assumed it was a Bradford Pear. One sniff confirmed it-pear trees are notorious stinkers. This one smelled a little like a cross between potatoes ready for the compost pile and old sneakers to me, but a lot of people say they smell like dead fish. Bradford pears were introduced from Korea and China and were an instant hit until people realized what a weak, short lived and stinky tree they are. They live only 25-30 years and even a small amount of ice or snow build up easily breaks the weak limbs. It is an ornamental tree used extensively along city streets and in parking lots. If you find yourself in a parking lot surrounded by trees with white flowers, chances are they are Bradford pears. Just smell one to be sure. The purple flowers of ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is in the mint family, have a very light minty scent that isn’t at all overpowering unless you mow down a large patch that has taken over the lawn. Lawns are one of its favorite places to grow and so it has been labeled a terrible weed and kicked to the curb. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it. I would add that nature also abhors bare ground and so has plants like ground ivy rush to fill it. That’s something that many don’t understand-if a lawn is doing well and is thick and lush then weeds can’t get a foothold and won’t grow because there is too much completion. It isn’t a plant’s fault that its seed fell on a piece of bare ground in what we might call a lawn. Scott over at the Little Crum Creek blog recently did an excellent post on ground ivy which you can read by clicking here. Flowering quince (Chaenomeles) is a very old fashioned shrub which, for about two weeks in spring, will fill a yard with its fruity fragrance, especially on warm evenings. Known as Japonica until the early 1900s, quince is one of the earliest flowering shrubs. It blooms about two weeks after forsythia blooms and before it shows leaves. The large, quarter sized orange / pink blossoms are loved by bees and butterflies, and hummingbirds will come from miles away to sip on their nectar. Quince grows edible fruit that can be harvested in late fall and made into an excellent jelly. I think if someone asked me what I thought heaven might smell like, I’d have them smell a Loebner magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri). These beautiful flowers bloom on a shrub that will reach 25 feet tall and have hundreds of them blooming at once. Like most magnolias, the flowers appear before the leaves in early to mid-spring. The fragrance is spicy-citrusy- sweet but not overpowering. There is little that comes close to the joy that is found by sitting out on the porch while this fragrance floats on the breeze. For now I’ll say that it is my favorite fragrance; until the lilacs bloom, anyway. It’s hard to choose a favorite fragrance. In my opinion all ornamental flowering cherry trees (Prunus) are beautiful. Some, like the variety named “Fragrant Cloud” are also very fragrant. Others have little or no fragrance. This double flowered weeping cherry tree was both beautiful and fragrant. I could have stood and sniffed the blooms all day.Forsythia is a plant that nurserymen agree does not have a fragrance, yet some say they love the plant for its fragrance and others say they can’t stand its odor. I’ve never been able to smell one, but I don’t correct those who think they do. If an imagined fragrance seems real to the person doing the smelling, then so be it. Forsythia is a native of Japan and was under cultivation as early as 1850in England. It is named after William Forsyth (1737-1804), the Scottish botanist who co-founded the Royal Horticultural Society in London.
Perfumes are the feelings of flowers. – Heinrich Heine
Thanks for visiting. I’m sorry I couldn’t do a scratch and sniff page so you could smell the flowers.