Smell has a powerful effect on people. Our olfactory system (or sense of smell) has strong connections with memory and our emotions.
Are you drawn to the scent of flowers? Have you ever stopped by to smell the flowers in a garden? The fragrance of flowers and plants is known to improve a person’s mood. They make us feel good, reduces our anxiety levels and calms us down.
But why do flowers emit smell in the first place? Flowers do indeed emit smell to attract. They do so in order to draw the attention of insects, bees, beetles and birds for the intent of pollination. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from an anther of a plant to the stigma of a plant for fertilisation and production of seeds. Animals, such as insects, birds, and bats, fertilise the plants by transferring pollen present in one flower to another.
Each flower species has a distinct aroma that attracts pollinators and helps them move from one blossom to the next, increasing the odds of pollen fertilisation. The hormone ethylene is created within the bloom after a flower has been pollinated. This prevents the release of methyl benzoate, the molecule responsible for the odour. This attracts pollinators to other blooms that haven’t been fertilised yet, allowing the nature’s process to continue.
So, do all animals circle on the most fragrant plant? No, not really. Just like humans, each animal has a preference. A flower that attracts bees may not attract moths or birds.
Take the example of corpse flowers. These flowers have a very strong pungent smell – the smell of rotting flesh. It is not popular with bees or butterflies, but these plants attract the flesh flies and burying beetles. These insects fancy this smell and act as the carriers of their pollen.
Lavender with its soothing fragrance is not just popular with people but is also a favorite of the bees. The sunflower plant on the other hand draws several winged visitors like sparrows and woodpeckers to its flowers.
Interestingly, the color and size of flowers too has a correlation to the pollinator. Plants such as guava, morning glory and agave are nocturnal. These plants have large white flowers to attract nocturnal creatures. The fruity fragrance and large size of the flowers make it all-time favorites of the bats.
Not every plant smell is to attract. Some smells are in the plants self-defense. Let us take the example of herbs like mint and basil. The leaves of these plants have essential oils in their glands. Over the course of time, these glands are filled with these oils. External disturbances like winds or pests release these oils and provide a perfume-like smell. Pests like snails and rabbits detest this minty herbal smell of plants and steer clear of such plants. Have you been lured too? In our next article, we will talk about plants with the most fragrance that you can choose for your home garden.
Filling your Garden with Fragrance
Love the scent of flowers? Here are our top 5 selections for your garden:
One of the most intoxicating flowers you can come across. The popular jasmine has a strong and sweet smell that make it a part of candles, perfumes, oil and soaps all over the world. They may not be the easiest plants to grow, but the end-result is often well worth the effort.
An evergreen plant that is native to the Mediterranean. The lavender is flower with a fragrance that is not too overwhelming. The plant is known for its soothing, calming aromatic qualities. In fact, the oil from lavender is used in medicines and is believed to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Thyme gets its smell from its leaves. This smell is meant to ward of predators like rabbits and snails from eating away the leaves. Thyme is another herb that is known for its medicinal properties. It can be used for flavoring the food, for skin and the scent of the room. The thyme is easy to grow and has a special lemon minty aroma and flavor.
Also known as the Night Jasmine, the flowers of this aromatic plant are offered to deities during pooja. As the name suggests, the flowers of this plant bloom at night. Besides its religious significance, this plant is quite popular in Ayurvedic and Siddha medicines and drugs in India.
This is another plant that is known for its fruity smell and used extensively in aromatherapy. The Magnolia fragrance is citrus-like tone and is sometimes compared to that of champagne. The Magnolia is believed to be one of the earliest known flowering plants, with fossils dating back over 100 million years.
The plumeria plant commonly known as frangipani is a tropical deciduous flowering plant. They have a very distinctive and heavenly scent and the flowers have beautiful, waxy petals. Plumeria is considered to be toxic to animals and people and no part of the plant is to be consumed.