University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
A GARDEN WORTH TEN SCENTS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
How do YOU describe scents or
fragrance in flowers? There are probably as many ways as there are
scent being very subjective. Scent varies with personal likes and
whether it is close or far, or depends on the emotions it evokes.
have devised various means to categorize scents, but one scheme is
in the Victorian times at the end of the 19th century that fragrance
in the garden became really popular for just that, not for any
functional use. Prior
to that time, fragrance was used medicinally and to mask unpleasant
odors. It was also at this time (1893) that scents
were first categorized by Count von Marilaun into six groups.
then, these have been expanded to ten scent groups, all of which are
flowers. These groups are based on common essential oils for each
plants. It is the volatile compounds from these oils that our noses
indole group has flowers smelling like and resembling decayed meat
such as the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton) and a wake-robin (Trillium
erectum), and attracts dung flies for pollination. The aminoid
smells unpleasant to attract flies, smelling of decayed fish or
includes many umbel flowers such as giant fennel. The heavy group
similar to the last, only sweeter, and includes some of the oldest
fragrant flowers such as some lilies and narcissus.
aromatic group has some of the most pleasantly scented flowers with
vanilla, balsam, almond, and cloves such as in some primroses,
and pinks. The violet group and smell is, of course, present in
violets. Smelling of damp woodland moss, it attracts no insects as
rose group is pleasant and found in roses in addition to some
scented geraniums. The lemon group is more often found in leaves but
some water lilies and evening primroses. The fruit-scented group
roses and some minor bulbs.
animal-scented group usually is unpleasant and may smell of musk as
roses, human perspiration as in valerian and ox-eye daisy, and
animal fur as in
crown imperial. The honey-scented group is similar to the last, only
and often more pleasant. Some examples are the butterfly-bush (Buddleia),
stonecrop (Sedum spectabile), and meadowsweet (Filipendula).
in most of these flower scent groups, insects or pollinators are the
reason for scent. It basically attracts
pollinators specifically needed to pollinate a flower, and at the
time. Usually if a flower is not ready,
or past the time, for pollination, or has been pollinated, it won’t
fragrance. If a flower is fragrant at
night, odds are that it is pollinated by moths or even bats. Sweet
scents generally attract bees and flies
for pollination, while those with fruity or musty-smelling flowers
may attract flies
or beetles for pollination.
scents fall into four main groups including the turpentine group
the camphor and eucalyptus group (sage, catmint, scented geraniums),
group, and the sulphur group (mustard, onions, garlic). Of course,
scents can be placed into the ten flower groups such as some scented
in the lemon and rose groups.
trees and shrubs, whose bark and roots generally fall into aromatic
turpentine groups, most herbaceous perennials with scented roots
fall into one
of the flower groups, such as the rose scent of some stonecrop (Sedum)
or violet scent of some iris roots.
species of plant may have fragrance, some of its highly bred
not. These cultivars (cultivated varieties) may have been
bred for other traits instead, such as flower size, shape, or
resistance. Roses are a good example of
a plant to pay attention to the fragrance of specific cultivars, if
important to you. Often, where there are
many cultivars to choose from, as with roses, peonies, daffodils or
some will have fragrant flowers.
want a fragrant garden, some of the best choices for spring are
lily-of-the-valley, some primroses, and hyacinths. For annual
flowers, consider sweet peas or
stocks—both of which prefer cooler parts of the season, heliotrope,
tobacco, sweet alyssum (I find this fragrance best for flies), or
dianthus. Fragrant summer perennials
include bearded iris early in the season, tall garden phlox later on
as well as
some of the oriental lilies, and lavender (where hardy). For woody
plants, consider roses, butterfly
bush (where hardy), lilacs, crabapples, or the sweet autumn clematis
at the end
of the season.