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Plant Sense: Part 1, Plant Scents

Plants are beautiful. The have lovely colored flowers that decorate our yards and farms and wildlands. They can be tiny little herbaceous wildflowers hiding among the waterfalls or giant succulent cacti looming over the desert.  When we think about plants we tend to think about the way they look, but some of our Plant Love Stories explore sensory experiences with plants beyond their visual appearance. Because #PlantLove is not just about seeing plants--it encompasses all of our senses and emotion--The PLS Team wants to showcase some of our stories that engage a multitude of plant sensory experiences, starting with the sense of smell.

Time Traveling with Plant Scents:

There is an inexplicable connection between smells and memories that scientists are just beginning to understand. However, the potential for smells--especially plant smells--to evoke powerful memories is familiar and widely-celebrated.

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you

across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.

The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home,

to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard.

Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting,

cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief.

Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents

that start awake sweet memories

of summers gone and ripening fields far away.” 

― Hellen Keller

“I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers.

I remember where a toad may live

and what time the birds awaken in the summer --

and what trees and seasons smelled like --

how people looked and walked and smelled even.

The memory of odors is very rich.” 

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Here are a few #PlantLoveStories that enrich the literary canon of plant smells and take us back in time:

Author: Kathi Bletz

Scent: stunningly sweet smell of milkweed

A small patch of milkweeds evokes memories of long-ago summer adventures.

“The air is redolent

with the stunningly sweet smell of milkweed.

I pause, and breathe deeply

Mesmerized by the scent.”

Author: Kausthubha Yarath

Scent: petrichor

The scent of the earth after the rain reminds the author of her childhood and her family’s farmlands, and evokes a sadness as she contemplates the loss of the scent with the loss of the rains.

“My memories of India are distinctly olfactory. Nothing can quite compare to the musky smell of the earth after a rain softens the hard, cracked dirt. The way that the air can be dry and sharp one second and, the next second, the breeze gets heavy as rain clouds roll in over the horizon. With the first crack of thunder and sheet of rain, you are surrounded by the smell of fresh earth. “

Author: Richelle DeBlasio

Scent: lavender

Wafts of perfume recall summer days in the garden:

“Now that I no longer live at my parents’ home, I still occasionally smell lavender from the campus gardens or perhaps a perfume. No matter the origin, the smell is always unexpected yet prompts me to reminisce about my childhood.”

Author: Rebecca Tonietto

Scent: Prairie Dropseed

What does a prairie smell like in the Fall?

“The smell of Prairie Dropseed – that can’t-quite-explain-it, sweet-but-spicy just beginning of a scent that seems to disappear just as you are about to be able to describe it.

Can you say you get just a glimpse of a scent? It's like that.”

Author:Sally Lin

Scent: jasmine

Sweet flower scents at night illicit childhood memories in Grandma’s garden.

“Those I remember best were the flowers jasmine and gardenia that bloom at dusk and produce this sweet aroma that filled the air. Even now, when I smell jasmine it brings back memories and I once again feel like a child. I adored those flowers for their sweet smell and they were always my favorite.”

Author: Stephanie Frischie

Scent: sedge

Botanical trips to wetlands evoke memories of childhood fishing trips with dad:

“On those collecting trips, I never failed to squeal with delight when seeing Scleria verticillata in the wild. So scrawny and elegant at the same time and why and how does a sedge smell so amazing?”

Authors: José Olivarez and Krissa Skogen

Scent: evening primrose 

This series of poems describes the hawkmoth using its sense of smell to pollinate evening primrose at night.  

“I don’t stay longer than one night in any one place; I don’t stop or slow for much. 

I fly into the wind, following a fleeting plume of sweet smells. 

Like others who work long shifts into the night, I like my cocktails. 

Gin infused with Earl Gray tea, jasmine, green apples. 

The bouquet of fragrance fills the air, whispers to me and I heed the call.”


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