Flowers Stimulate the Senses with Fragrances Ranging from Foul to Flattering
MOST CORSAGE BUYERS AND recipients would probably tell you that while orchids are commonly regarded as the most exotic and choice of blossoms for that application, they are, unfortunately, not fragrant. But orchid growers know that this is far from the truth. While many orchids do lack perfume, there are plenty with remarkably strong and distinctive scents.
However, floral aromas have not evolved for the amusement of humans. Their sole purpose is to attract a pollinator to the flower. Many fragrant orchids release their scents only during certain hours of the day or night to attract specific pollinators.
One of most popular and best-known fragrant orchids is Brassavola nodosa, frequently called lady of the night. The orchid’s common name is derived from its sweet perfume, which is released as the sun goes down so that its pollinator can locate it.
The pollinator is a moth. Like many evening-pollinated blossoms, the flowers are also white, making them easier to differentiate in dim light. I knew one orchid grower who enjoyed the B. nodosa fragrance so much that he would take his plant to the bedside table when it was in bloom in order to enjoy the aroma while he slept. Most other Brassavola species have similar fragrances that are released during the evening hours. Happily, many of their hybrids share the characteristic.
The genus Brassavola belongs to the larger group of orchids commonly called the Cattleya Alliance. There are quite a number of fragrant species and hybrids within this group that possess variously sweet floral aromas that are mostly fragrant by day.
CATTLEYAS The subgroup popularly known as bifoliate cattleyas includes a number of fragrant species. Some of these include Cattleya bicolor, Cattleya aclandiae, Cattleya schil-leriana, Cattleya walkeriana and Cattleya guttata. Hybrids derived from these are frequently scented as well, particularly when crossed with each other or with scented species and hybrids from the unifoliate Cattlelya and Laelia groups.
Two of the sweetest-scented Cattleya relatives are Rhyncholaelia digbyana and Rhyncholaelia glauca, which are typically most fragrant in
the evening. (Both of these were previously classified in the genus Brassavola.) Their scents have been likened to lemon and lily-of-the-valley. Hybrids derived from these species often carry fragrance as well.
All orchid scents are not pleasing, or perhaps I should say they are not pleasing to all people. While I have not studied it scientifically, it seems to me that each person’s sense of smell may be unique. Repeatedly, I have found fragrances that are pleasing to me are less well received by someone else, and sometimes the reverse is true. There have also been times I have enjoyed a blossom’s floral scent when another person nearby could detect no fra-grance in the same flower. Perhaps that is the crux of the perfume industry.
BULBOPHYLLUMS Fortunately, the majority seems to agree on which flowers smell good and which do not, and most concur that some of the least pleasant orchid scents are offered by some of the species belonging to the large amalgamation of orchids from the diverse genus Bulbophyllum. These real stinkers of the orchid clan have evolved to be pollinated by flies, which, to no one’s surprise, are strongly attracted to flowers that smell like feces or rotting flesh.
Some of their aromas are legendary and I have seen more than one novice unsuspectingly coaxed into taking a good whiff of one, to the delight of those goading them. Bulbophyllum beccarii, Bulbophyllum echinolabium and Bulbophyllum rothschildianum are but a few of numerous offenders. Even the fascinating tufted blossoms of Bulbophyllum medusae have a scent that is less than pretty, though not as foul as some. This is not to say that every Bulbophyllum flower has an obnoxious odor, but beware before you stick your nose into an unknown one.
THE VANDA CLAN Better scents are offered by numerous of vandaceous orchids. In fact, a number of scented species in the genus Vanda itself have aromas frequently described as fruity or spicy. These include Vanda dearei, Vanda denisoniana, Vanda merrillii and Vanda tricolor, to name a few.
Some are surprised to learn that there are fragrant species in the genus Phalaenopsis as well, because it is unusual to encounter a fragrant example among the ubiquitous hybrid swarms that seem to be offered by all types of retail establishments these days. Plus, fragrant phalaenopsis tend to have a delicate scent that is not heady, so fragrant examples may go unnoticed. Among the fragrant Phalaenopsis species are Phalaenopsis violacea, Phalaenopsis bellina, Phalaenopsis amboinensis, Phalaenopsis schilleriana and Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana. A few of their hybrids are scented too.
If it is a stronger fragrance you seek, you need look no further than the vandaceous cousins from Africa and Madagascar that compose the genus Angraecum. Most feature white, cream-colored or pale greenish starry flowers with a conspicuous nectar spur at the base of the lip. The almost overpowering fragrance of some helps to lure moth pollinators during the night. The fragrance has been likened to jasmine. If you have room for a somewhat sizeable plant, Angraecum sesquipedale is one of the most impressive.
If space is a problem, look for a diminutive cousin Neofinetia falcata. This miniature comes from Japan and produces a lot of scent for such small flowers. Unlike the Angraecum, how-ever, these are fragrant during the day as well as the night. This species has been a parent of compact-growing fragrant offspring as well.
AND MORE There are particular orchid species with flowers possessing such a distinctive fragrance you can nearly identify them by it. Maxillaria tenuifolia carries the strong odor of coconut, while Lycaste aromatica smells like cinnamon. Paphiopedilum malipoense offers a light raspberry scent.
Fragrant flowers are rather common in many other branches of the orchid family. There are a number of scented species in the large and varied genus Dendrobium. The same is true for the genera Stanhopea, Gongora, Aerangis, Catasetum, Oncidium, Rhynchostylis, Lycaste and Miltoniopsis.
With so many from which to choose, it is easy to build an orchid collection that stimulates not only the eyes, but also the nose, and that makes good sense.