Can Some Plants “Smell” The Flowers Of Other Plants?

Cover tifWhy Do Flowers Smell?

A couple of the most common questions that people have about flowers are: (1) Why do flowers have scents? and (2) Why do many flowers smell good to us?

The first question is fairly easy to answer, but the second one is a bit trickier to try to answer.

The short answer to “Why do flowers smell? is: because floral scents help to attract pollinators. A more detailed answer to this question is provided courtesy of Scientific American online: Why do flowers have scents?

As to why some flowers smell good to us, a reasonable answer has been provided by the Smithsonian.com: Why do flowers smell good?

However, there is certainly a lot of speculation out there regarding this question. And I was able to find only one recent paper regarding peoples’ physiological responses to floral scents (please see Ref. 1 below).

And don’t forget, some flowers smell absolutely terrible to us, especially ones that are pollinated by flies that are attracted to rotting flesh (carrion) and animal feces. (Please see, for example, Stinking Flowers – Not All Flowers Smell As Sweet As A Rose.)

Currently, my own personal favorite is the following: Orchids give off human ‘body odor’ to attract mosquitoes.

Anyway, what got me interested in this subject at the present time is a recent opinion piece in the journal Trends in Plant Science (see Ref. 2 below).

In this article, the authors discuss four basic suppositions:

  • Plants emit volatile organic compounds that can function as cues to other plants.
  • Plants may use floral volatiles from their neighbors to sense their mating environment.
  • Plants could respond by adjusting floral traits that affect pollination and mating.
  • Plant responses to floral volatiles cues are particularly likely to be adaptive.
  • (from Ref. 2 below)

    In other words, volatile organic compounds produced by some flowers provide a complex array of chemical signals that may be detected by neighboring plants and that, in turn, may influence their reproductive physiology.

    References

    1. Jo, H., et al. (2013) “Physiological and Psychological Response to Floral Scent.” HortScience, Vol. 48, pp. 82-88. (Full Text).

    2. Caruso, C. M. and A. L. Parachnowitsch (2016) “Do Plants Eavesdrop on Floral Scent Signals?” Trends in Plant Science, Vol. 21, pp. 9-15. (Abstract)

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