Fragrant and aromatic plants: Better living through chemistry

Hail-damaged perennial after clean up pruning

Fragrant Iris pallida Variegata
with Buddleia

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

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.

Allium Millenium

Deer resistant Allium Millenium

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.

Aromatic Agastache 'Desert Solstice' with Russian Sage (Perovskia).jpg

Aromatic Agastache 'Desert Solstice' with Russian Sage (Perovskia)

Here are my lists of favorites:

Fragrant flowersCholcolate Flower (Berlandiera), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculatat varieties), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Daffodils, Iris (Iris pallida Variegata), Fendler’s Barberry (Mahonia), Hyacinths and Tulips.

Aromatic plantsHummingbird Mint (Agastache), Sage (Salvia), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Lavender (Lavandula), Ornamental Onions (Allium), Beebalm (Monarda), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Sage (Artemisia), Germander (Teucrium), Thyme (Thymus), Yarrow (Achillea), Hyssop (Hyssopus)

Text and photos by David Salman

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