Smell the Flowers

Have you ever wondered why many flowers have such a sexy scent?

Well, let’s just say this could be a happy accident, because while a flower's aroma can literally knock humans’ socks off, nature really intended it to win the love of insects.

In essence, floral fragrances are volatile chemicals which the plant produces in its pollen, petals or other ‘body parts’ to market itself to insects. The scent, much like a flower’s bright colours, signals to the insect that nectar or pollen are up for grabs – plus it can cunningly fool them into an amorous mood!

So, in the process of getting lured into the floral den looking for a mate, pollen gets stuck to the insect’s hairy tentacles. They then carry this pollen to the stigma of another flower of the same species (possibly drawn to it by the same scent) and voilà: cross-pollination takes place. Floral fragrance in the name of procreation, so to speak!

There’s a good chance that flower fragrances originally evolved from chemicals meant to turn off herbivores, so insects had safe access to the flowers.

Above: Simple arrangements of red roses and red tulips by Sandra Kaminski.

Many flower fragrances follow a circadian cycle when they’re produced. This means their scent can be stronger at certain times of the day or night. Snapdragons, for example, are more fragrant during the day, when bee pollinators are in action mode.

Weather conditions, too, affect a flower’s smell. Have you ever strolled through your garden after it’s rained, and noticed that the flowers are so much more fragrant? That’s because the humid air streamlines the scent molecules to travel further – which means they reach your schnozzle and nasal receptors more easily.


Headline Summary Date

 15 August 2012 
 18 June 2012 
 06 February 2012