We All Love Scented Flowers But What Makes Flowers Smell?

The emotion that comes with flowers through their scent is one of many reasons why flowers are so loved. But where does this smell come from?

By: THURSD | 25-02-2022 | 4 min read
Floral Education

The emotion that comes with flowers through their scent is one of many reasons why flowers are so loved. When you enter a room and it’s filled with a perfume that makes you smile, the feeling it creates is instant happiness. But where does this smell come from and why do all flowers have a different scent? Science made clear why there are scented flowers and where these scents come from. 

Scented Flowers - Why Do Flowers Produce Scents?

Flowers produce chemicals in their blooms, providing a fragrance necessary for their survival. Alluring to pollinators and turning away predators, these plants use specific chemistry in mixing essences to further their existence. This scent is what we are smelling. Most of them are lovely scents, sometimes it’s a scent we don’t like. But when it’s there and it’s good, it brings us joy and happiness.


Smelling roses scented flowers on Thursd

Photo by Annie Spratt from Unsplash


How Does Nature Operate?

When the flower is ready for fertilization, it produces a unique floral musk to signal pollinators. Pollinators such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are drawn to the scent. And, by going from flower to flower, complete the process of transferring pollen to an egg, creating fertile seeds. If a herbivore animal approaches a flower, however, an unpleasant scent of cardiac and steroidal glycosides is produced within the bloom, acting as the flower's form of protection against being eaten.

How Is a Flower's Scent Created?

A flower's scent is created within the petals where essential oils are stored. When there is warm weather, the oils combine and evaporate, producing a unique scent for every flower to attract pollinators. The most common oil scent given off by scented flowers is methyl benzoate.

Essential oils are made up of a mix of individual terpenes. For instance, cannabis terpenes like Myrcene are responsible for the plant's unique dank smell, lavender's distinct smell comes from the terpene Linalool, and pine trees' fresh aroma is derived from Pinene.


Field of Lavender on Thursd


Each flower variation has a specific scent to guide pollinators from one flower to another, heightening the chances of pollen being successfully fertilized. Once a flower has been pollinated, the hormone ethylene is produced within the bloom. That stops methyl benzoate, the chemical responsible for the scent, from further being released. This encourages pollinators to be drawn toward other flowers which haven't yet been fertilized to continue the process.

The Importance of Scent 

Our sense of smell is an often overlooked, but important feature in the human experience. Smells can strongly link us to our past, our memories, and the people and things we love. The sweet smell of garden roses in bloom, the delightful scent of hyacinths, or the familiar and comforting scent of lavender can immediately bring us back to a specific time and place in our lives. One of our first instincts, when we see a bunch of flowers, is to stick our noses in them to catch a whiff of scent - only to be disappointed more often than not when we find out there is no scent. So why do not all flowers smell?


Bee pollinating flower


Why Don't All Flowers Smell?

The most important thing to note about this is that humans can only smell so much. Our sense of smell is not as refined as those of a lot of animals - dogs for instance can smell something from as far as 20 km in the right conditions. Other creatures have completely different olfactory (the sensation of smell) abilities than us. Therefore, it's a logical possibility that some flowers don't smell like anything to us but have a distinctive scent for their pollinators and other animals. Another reason is that many flowers sold in florist shops have been bred for color, size, and vase life, and the scent got lost in the breeding process. On top of that, there are also flowers that get pollinated by the wind or by water so they don't require a scent to attract pollinators. 


Floral designer Alina Neacsa smelling the roses scented flowers on Thursd
Image from Alina Neacsa


Buying Scented Flowers 

Whether you opt for a classic rose, choose calming lavender or the intoxicating gardenia, when you walk into a flower shop it's a haven of natural perfumes. We are often so busy admiring the visual feast that we forget to stop and inhale the aromas. But if you follow your nose, you'll find that no sense can create a memory as lasting as our sense of smell. So next time you buy flowers, don't forget about those peonies, lilies, roses, freesias, tuberoses, and lilacs, because they will inspire more than just sight alone.



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