Fragrance from Flowers

Written by Leanna Serras

Fragrance was an important element of old-fashioned Victorian gardens. Gardeners planting and tending these vintage gardens spent a lot of time considering the fragrances of the flowers they grew. Plants contain essential oils, which emit fragrance into the air. The essential oils may originate from blossoms, leaves, or event plants' roots. Flowers have fragrance for an important reason, primarily to aid in pollination. Pollinators are attracted to plants based on the fragrances they emit. Some flowers have strong fragrances, while others have little or even no fragrance at all.

What Makes a Flower Fragrant?

Nectaries produce fragrances in flowers. Nectaries are usually located inside the male stamen of flowers. To produce fragrances, nectaries secrete a mixture of sugars and amino acids, which become nectar molecules and fragrance molecules. The fragrance molecules vaporize into the air when a plant releases them. Flowers attract pollinators such as insects and birds with their fragrances and their colors. They usually produce the strongest fragrances when they are ready for pollination. This strong fragrance output also coincides with the activity level of the pollinators the flowers are trying to attract. For example, bees tend to be most active in the middle part of the day, so flowers seeking to attract bees would put forth their strongest fragrance at this time of the day. The insects or birds that are attracted are rewarded with nectar, and in the process of gathering the nectar, the pollinators perform the necessary service of helping the plants to reproduce.

Why New Flower Species Have Less Fragrance

Differences in fragrance are especially apparent when comparing older types of flowers with newer varieties. The old flower varieties often distributed heady scents into the air, whereas flower types developed more recently may have little or even no fragrance. In the creation of new flower species, scientists tend to focus on color, shape, form, and longevity of blossoms. Flower breeders are also focusing attention on disease resistance in plants. Some researchers have noticed that flowers with strong scents seem to have a shorter life once they are cut, so in an effort to create flowers that will last longer, scientists have worked to reduce fragrance levels in many cases. As breeders succeed in producing new, more virulent plants, the scent is bred out.

Perfumes and Their Similarity to Floral Scents

Humans have appreciated the beautiful scents of flowers for generations. When people smell floral scents, they often feel happier and have a more positive outlook. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain responsible for processing a scent, determining whether you will like or dislike it. Scents can also have a powerful link to feelings and memories. Perfumes and colognes are created to appeal to the sense of smell. Most perfumes contain volatile oils derived from plant sources. Even newer synthetic fragrances tend to mimic single floral fragrances or a combination of scents. A distillation process is used to draw out the plant oils to use them for perfume and cologne. Perfumes generally utilize alcohol as the carrier medium. To create a signature scent, manufacturers add essential oils from specific plants. The different essential oils impart specific scents into the mixture. Some scents evaporate more quickly than others, which determines the speed at which you will smell them. In the combination of scents found in most perfumes, the smells that evaporate first are the initial fragrances detected, called top notes. The middle scents formulate the main fragrance of a perfume. The final scents that your nose detects, the bottom notes, are the ones that work to ground all of the scents and pull them together into a pleasing combination. Manufacturers may also add preservatives and colorants to perfume.