Field of Science

Making sense of scents

One of the Phactors favorite early summer plants is Magnolia virginiana, sweet bay. In our area is grows as a large shrub, and rather than flowering in a big, all at once bang, it produces a few flowers for a couple of weeks. Among all of the cultivated magnolias, this species probably has the smallest flowers, 8-10 cm across when open, but what a display! But it's not a visual display although the creamy white perianth is pretty enough; it's an olfactory display. In the early evening and through the night, the recently opened flowers flood the area with a magnificent fragrance, almost intoxicating. If the air is still you can pick up the distinctive odor from 30 or 40 feet away, even further if you are down breeze, and that's with a human nose, not the keen sensory apparatus of an insect. When you actually stick your nose right up to the flower, the scent is almost overpowering. And it's very difficult to describe, spicy-floral-musky-pheromony type of scent. Wow! That's why you plant these fairly close to your patio. They attract an array of small beetles who find the flowers by following these plumes of scent and then sort of blundering into the cup shaped flowers.

No comments: