A friend suggested a series of posts on scented flowers. I, being a contrary devil, have decided to start with those plants I grow which definitely do not reward a good sniff.
Plants pollinated by bees, moths and butterflies often have scents attractive to humans. (Incidentally – flowers pollinated by birds are usually unscented, red and tubular – fuchsia are a good example)
Flowers pollinated by flies and rodents are often scented in ways that are not nice to human noses!
Scoliopus bigelowii (fetid adderstongue). This little charmer from Northern California and Oregon has a smell of wet dog. Though it cannot compete with a soggy Molly in the aroma department…
I find it an easy and attractive plant to grow in a shady spot and it has lovely mottled leaves after the flowers fade.
Fritillaria – herbivore deterrent. The large Fritillaria imperialis (and close relatives) has a very strong smell of foxes from every part of the plant and this is likely to be a herbivore deterrent.
The smell of onions and garlic (and the related Tulbaghia and Ipheion) is due to the sulphurous compounds produced when alliins within the plant tissues are converted by enzymes released when the plant is bruised or crushed. This is also likely to be a herbivore deterrent. Ironically the flowers of many onions are very nicely scented and attractive to bees – just don’t touch the leaves when leaning in for a sniff!
Wurmbea. These are thought to be pollinated by flies and have a rather fetid scent, though they are quite attractive. This is Wurmbea marginata from South Africa
Massonia depressa and amoena. M.depressa is one of the very few rodent pollinated bulbs and has been covered in an earlier blog post.
The attractive Massonia amoena is a strange plant and fits the criteria for a bee pollinated plant. There are even hints of a pleasant scent in the newly opened flowers. But when the flowers start to fade they emit a powerful rather goaty aroma. I am reminded about this every year when I remove the dying flowers and then spend ages trying to get the smell off my hands.
Bug orchid. This apparently smells of bedbugs. Having never encountered a bedbug I can’t comment!
The Arum family are famously smelly and I have picked a few favourites. In most cases the smell is only strong on the first day the flower opens. This is very noticeable in the wild with Dracunculus vulgaris in spring on Crete where it is very common. Some plants seem very strong smelling but this is probably because the flowers are newly opened. I think it is rather a handsome thing personally.
Arum proper is very similar but on a smaller scale. Oddly there is at least one species (Arum creticum) which has a pleasant scent.
Biarum. These fascinate me and resemble Arum and Dracunculus but in miniature. Most are in the category ‘very smelly’ but one at least I would describe as disgusting. Needless to say it is one of my favourites.
Biarum ditschianum was only discovered in |Turkey in 1989 and is named for the student who found it. It is utterly unique in appearance because the spathe is reduced to just a rim at ground level, leaving the yellow spadix rather rudely prominent. It more than makes up for lack of visual impact by its smell. I would describe it as a mix of sewage, sour milk and vomit and is literally gag-inducing at close quarters and can be detected even ten feet away outdoors. I cannot describe what it is like in an enclosed space like the greenhouse!
Again – there is an exception – Biarum davisii and the related B. marmarisesnse have a pleasant sweet scent and are almost cute in appearance:
I only recently started growing these. The flowers of many bear a resemblance to those of Ferraria and have a similar smell to Arum. Unsurprisingly they are also pollinated by flies. The big flowers of some species resemble an open wound and flies are often convinced enough lay their eggs in the flowers and young maggots can sometimes be seen.