Why Flowers Smell So Good

Main picture of an article on why flowers have a good smell.
Flowers have unique colors to attract pollinators and thus ensure reproduction.

Almost all flowers have a special scent that attracts us and makes them unique and irresistible at the same time. This smell is delicious, like a sweet, fresh and delicate perfume. But why do flowers smell the way they do?

The plant must resort to other strategies to transport pollen to fertilize other flowers. In some cases, the wind carries the particles through the air from one flower to another, ensuring pollination.

Plants synthesize special substances known as essential oils that they use to protect themselves from certain diseases, scare away predators or attract insects that help in pollination. These substances are mixtures of various chemical compounds that give the characteristic aroma to flowers, fruits, bark, leaves and seeds.

In many cases, plants concentrate these substances in both flowers and fruits, which act as chemical messengers. The scent travels through the air where it is detected by specific animals.

It is believed that pleasant smells are associated with substances that are pleasurable to consume, so plants are able to attract pollinators.

A picture of how flowers use their scent to attract insects and other animals.
The sense that flowers have for attracting different types of insects that will help them pollinate and reproduce.

Smell of flowers

Plants, like other living beings, are composed of different parts or organs with well-defined functions that make it possible for the natural cycle to be fulfilled:

  • Birth
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Death

In the case of plants, the parts that make them up are:

  • The roots
  • The stem
  • Leaves
  • Flowers and the fruits

Although it must be remembered that not all plants flower and therefore do not produce fruits or seeds, as in the case of mosses and ferns. In flowering plants the flower is usually the most conspicuous part of the plant, and do you know why?

Because the flower is the reproductive organ of the plant, where pollen, a small yellow powder that allows the species to reproduce, is stored. Unable to move, the plant must resort to other strategies to transport pollen and fertilize other flowers. In some cases, the wind carries the particles in the air from one flower to another, providing pollination.

However, since the flowers need extra support, they have devised other methods to attract the attention of insects and get them so close that the pollen sticks to their bodies. Unknowingly, the insects continue their journey through other gardens, transporting the Pollen from one place to another to get the flowers pollinated. The most effective strategies for attracting birds and insects are the the use of shapes, colors, and scents, and the production of nectar (sweet liquid) that serves as food.

This process is known to scientists as the Pollinator Syndromes, which is a set of characteristics:

  • Shape
  • Color
  • Size
  • Nectar
  • Odor

By which each flower attracts a particular pollinator, thereby transporting pollen from one flower to another, which promotes reproduction and fruit formation.

Bad smelling plants

Flower that smells bad.
Some pollinators don’t just go for fragrant flowers like roses. They also like the stinky smell of flowers.

Although less common, it is also important to know that there are some flowers that give off a strong and even unpleasant odor (similar to rotting meat or a decaying animal) to attract certain flies and scavengers. Examples of these flowers are Rafflesia Arnoldii and Hydnora Africana. Those with a good odor, which are the majority, mainly attract birds, butterflies and bees.

The intensity of the scent emitted by each flower varies according to:

  • Time of day
  • Season
  • Climate
  • Age
  • Species

Whether the scent is pleasant or unpleasant, the purpose of flowers is the same: to attract pollinating insects so that they can reproduce, because they cannot move on their own.

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