ASK THE HORT AGENT
Question What is the flower that smells so sweet outside during the winter?
Answer Our sense of smell is such a wonderful thing. Odor memories often have strong emotional qualities and are associated with good or bad experiences in which they occurred. Our sense of smell is handled by the same part of the brain (the limbic system) that handles memories and emotions. Often we can immediately recognize and respond to smells from childhood such as the smell of clean sheets, cookies baking, new books or a musty room in Grandmas house. Sometimes we cannot put a name to these odors, yet they evoke a strong emotional association.
As the weather cools in the fall, we enter the holiday season which is full of memory smells. The mere mention of Christmas or Thanksgiving may bring to mind the smell of a Christmas tree, baking turkey, hot cider or a burning candle. However, it is usually the smells that remind us of certain feelings, places or people. For example, the smell of wood smoke, fallen leaves or crisp air may remind us of fall or winter. Thoughts of holiday seasons may be evoked by more specific smells like perfume at the mall, new shoes or gunpowder at a turkey shoot. Studies have shown that people recall smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while the visual recall of photos sinks to about 50% after only three months.
There are several plants that have fragrant flowers outside in the winter. They include Osmanthus, Witch Hazel, Elaeagnus, Wintersweet, Winter Honeysuckle, Mahonia and Winter Daphne. These plants are all shrubs that range in size from really large (Osmanthus) to small (Winter Daphne). Hardiness is not a problem except for the Daphne, which can be temperamental.
When these wonderful fragrances fill the air, they become part of our memory. We then have one more sense to remind us of bountiful blessings and joyous occasions. Why not let these plants strengthen our memories of happy holidays?
According to the Sense of Smell Institute (this is a real place),”the sense of smell brings us into harmony with nature, warns us of dangers and sharpens our awareness of other people, places and things. It helps us to respond to those we meet, can influence our mood, who we talk to and who we want to see again”.
Logically, the smell of pumpkin pie should remind you of Thanksgiving. Research shows that it serves as an aphrodisiac for most men. In light of this info, there’s no telling what sweet flowers may make you do.
Gary L. Pierce
Horticulture Extension Agent