Mock orange compensates for its lack of flashy color with alluring fragrance.

Remember the smell of the neighbor’s kitchen that met you on the sidewalk as you occasionally walked by when you were young? Whether it was Momma Tomeo’s gnocchi, Mrs. Panagakos’ fresh bread or Mrs. Adam’s black eyed peas, it was so alluring, even from considerable distance. Fragrant flowers may not compare to black eyed peas (mmm), but they certainly can be alluring even without being seen.

Because flowers prefer to be efficient at their work of attracting pollinators, they tend to be either colorful or fragrant, but not both. Those that attract pollinators with color do not need to also use fragrance. Conversely, those that use fragrance to impress pollinators do not need flashy colors. Most fragrant flowers are pale shades of white, and bloom for a short time. However, there happen to a few flowers that are both fragrant and colorful.

Black locust is one of the most fragrant of trees, despite its many other problems. (It is invasive and weedy.) The flowers are bright white, and abundant enough to be quite impressive. Southern magnolia has a distinctive but more subdued fragrance. The flowers are impressively large and bloom randomly through the year, but pale and not very showy among the bold evergreen foliage.

Of the many shrubs with fragrant flowers, mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) has rampant growth with a good display of elegant and remarkably fragrant white flowers. Daphne produces a strongly sweet fragrance with clusters of small pale pink flowers. Both lilac and angel’s trumpet, although very different from each other, have the advantage of impressively fragrant flowers that are quite colorful. Roses offer a better variety of color, but not many are as fragrant.

Wisteria is an aggressive vine with flowers and fragrance like those of the black locust, with all the colors of lilac. Despite the advantage of a longer bloom season, fragrant honeysuckle lacks impressive color.

Earlier in spring, bulbs like freesia, hyacinth, lily, narcissus and some iris bloomed with some of the most fragrant flowers available, in all sorts of colors. Alyssum and flowering tobacco are nice fragrant annuals that bloom longer than most others. Sweet pea may not last as long as weather gets warmer, but compensates with richer and more varied fragrances.


4 thoughts on “Fragrance Lacks Color

  1. In a house I used to live in, there was a honeysuckle that climbed a trellis at the end of the porch, and it had the most amazingly sweet fragrance! It also boasted beautiful orangey-red flowers. Twenty-eight years later, I still remember what a joy it was to walk up onto that porch on a June evening and be transported by that sweet, sweet scent! I didn’t need Calgon to take me away when I had that!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, if I had known that, I could have sent some bare root rooted suckers while they were dormant for winter. I plugged them into unrefined landscapes over winter. They are just the wild sort though.


    1. The various honeysuckles have only recently become available here. Japanese honeysuckle was the primary sort for as long as I can remember. It used to be almost too common, but is alluringly fragrant. It would be interesting to try some of the others. We got ‘Peaches and Cream’ at work, but I have not been impressed with the fragrance. It should become more fragrant as it grows and provides more bloom.


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