By Steve Bender
What is the sweetest flower of all? Answer that question and I can probably tell what’s growing in your garden. Of all our senses, I think smell is the one most closely linked to memory. A single whiff of a flower instantly transports you back to a time and place when you encountered it as a child.
Flowers are fragrant for the same reason that women who want babies dab vanilla extract behind their ears on that special night. (Chicago Cubs fans use mustard.) They crave pollination in order to propagate the species. The fragrance tells pollinating insects and animals that a bloom is open for business and also leads them to the target.
Sweet-scented flowers manipulate people too. We may not pollinate blossoms, but their perfume makes them so desirable that we buy them at garden centers and plant them in our gardens. The constant demand keeps growers propagating more of them to sell.
Of course, not all fragrant flowers smell sweet. For example, the blooms of voodoo lilies (Amorphophallus sp.) smell like carrion. This attracts flies, their chief pollinators. After it’s pollinated, the bloom no longer stinks. I’ll bet hyenas would love voodoo lilies, but our homeowners association prohibits hyenas.