Monday, January 30, 2012
Every so often there’s a discussion on a perfume forum or garden forum about whether or not certain flowers have a fragrance. The question is often asked about orchids, since most of the orchids sold in supermarkets are Phalaenopsis hybrids that have been bred for fast growth, large flower size, symmetrical shape, and bright color. The breeders of these orchid equivalents of the white leghorn chicken (a flightless living factory for breast meat and eggs) seem to forget that one of the reasons people love flowers is because of their fragrance. As I point out here from time to time, many orchids do, in fact, have strong fragrances to attract pollinators, just as jungle fowl, the ancestors of domestic chickens, can actually fly to get around and escape predators.
A while back, I read a discussion about whether daffodils, narcissus or marigolds have a fragrance. In fact, each type of flowers has a very characteristic fragrance, often quite strong, and absolutes are extracted from all of them for use in perfumery. However, if you go in a florist shop, the chances of finding a fragrant flower are practically zero.
As Valentine’s Day rolls around, I have visions of hordes of women (and some men) being given bouquets of flowers, automatically sniffing them, and consciously or subconsciously being disappointed to find that they have no odor except, perhaps, a faint residue of fertilizer of pesticide that was applied in the faraway country where they were grown, or a stale refrigerator smell.
Prime offenders are roses, daffodils, narcissus, cyclamens, and now lilies, which were one of the last scented hold-outs. It used to be a treat to smell the lilies in supermarket floral displays, but I've noticed that more and more have been de-scented, and even deprived of their pollen. It seems the commercial flower growers' mottos are "flowers should be seen and not smelled”, and “Flowers should not appear to engage in any activities related to sexual reproduction.”
So if you want to give your sweetie fragrant flowers for Valentine’s day, what are your options? Frankly, I don’t know. Maybe a farmer’s market that sells home-grown flowers, or a nursery that sells blooming plants that actually do have a fragrance. Gardenia and jasmine come to mind, as do winter daphne and other winter-blooming shrubs. Even hardy cyclamens have a fragrance. If you are lucky enough to have an orchid nursery nearby, a winter-blooming cattleya with its exotic fragrance would blow anyone away. Think beyond the dozen tired, plastic-looking red roses on artificial life support in the refrigerator case. How could you go wrong with a fragrant living plant and a box of good chocolates or a bottle of good perfume? Come to think of it, a deluxe sample set of perfumes from Olympic Orchids might make an interesting and unusual Valentine’s gift, too!