Fragrant and aromatic plants: Better living through chemistry

Agastache planting in bloom

Agastache carries a sweet aroma with both it's foliage and blooms, and is known for it's popularity with hummingbirds.

What makes some plants fragrant, and others not?

Instinctively, when we see a beautiful flower, we lean over to sniff it hoping for a sweet scent. The natural perfume of plants is an attribute we gardeners are always searching for.

There are two types of scents to be found in plants;

  • Fragrant flowers and plants are ones that release a scent into the air
  • Aromatic plants release their scented oils when brushed, bent or crushed

Fragrant Flowers

Flowers that release scent often do so to attract pollinators. Many nocturnal blooming plants have strongly scented flowers that attract moths and other night-flying insects.  A flower’s color is of no use to pollinators in the dark of night.

Purple allium in bloom with bee

Deer resistant Allium Millenium. Customer Photo.

Aromatic Plants

Aromatic plants are those that have volatile oils in their leaves and stems. When brushed against or their foliage is bent or crushed, the scents are released. These types of plants are often cultivated for their essential oils. Culinary herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary and lavender are aromatic plants long associated with mankind. These and other aromatic plants use their aromatic oils as a defense against browsing animals, like deer and rabbits. Since plants are rooted in place and can’t run away for protection, they have enlisted the help of chemicals to provide them with some defense. These plants are a great choice for areas where deer and rabbits are a problem.

I've long had a great fondness for fragrant and aromatic plants. Salvia (Sage), Agastache (Hummingbird Mint), Lavandula (Lavender), Berlandiera (Chocolate Flower), Garden Phlox (Phlox), Pansies (Viola) and many others are planted in my gardens to enjoy their scents.

Extra Cold Hardy Chocolate Flower

Extra Cold Hardy Chocolate Flower gets its name due to (surprise) beautiful chocolate smelling blooms!

Here are my lists of favorites:

Fragrant flowers

Aromatic plants

Highest Rated / Most Popular Plants >> View All

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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