Stinky plants

by Kate Bradbury

There are some plants which everyone agrees smell bad. The titan arum and the dragon arum both smell like rotting corpses when in flower, to attract pollinating flies.

Iris foetidissima berries There are some plants which everyone agrees smell bad. The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) and the dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris), for example, both smell like rotting corpses when in flower, to attract pollinating flies. Happily, not all 'bad' plant smells are this extreme. Despite its reputation, I don't think the stinking iris, Iris foetidissima, has such an offensive odour.

I conducted a poll around the Gardeners’ World magazine office to discover which plants were deemed 'stinky'. There were some obvious candidates: Daniel used to tend a collection of titan arums when he was a student and sometimes found the smell so overpowering he tried to avoid entering the glasshouse.

David's 'favourite' stinky plant is Sarracenia flava, which he first grew at college. One day a bad smell developed and he thought something had died under the floorboards. It was two weeks before he realised the flower of his beloved plant was the cause of the stench.

Ross nominates his particularly whiffy cactus, Epiphyllum anguliger, or rickrack cactus, which produces large yellow-white blooms at night, to attract bats. He describes the scent as a cross between lemon and bleach. He doesn't mind the smell, but his partner makes him put it outside whenever it flowers.

There were some surprising answers. too. Lucy doesn't like the smell of deadnettles, Lamium species, which she says smell like dead mice, although she tolerates them as they're "a good plant". Helen hates wallflowers, which she says smell too like their cousins the cabbages.

Adam suggested imperial fritillaries, which can have quite a foxy odour, especially on sunny days (they too have a smelly relation, the stink bell, Fritillaria agrestis, which grows wild in the heavy soils of California). But his wife and children hate the smell of strongly scented hyacinths and paper-white narcissi, which he's not allowed to grow in the house.

I don't like the scent of poppy stems and I hate poppy sap. I'm sure it evokes a childhood memory - probably of picking them and being told off. But that's a blog for another day.

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Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2010 at 18:13

I dislike the scent of Jasmine which smells like cat's pee to me.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2010 at 20:38

I agree, the "stinking iris" seems not to stink at all! Is there a case under the Trades Description Act, do you think?

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2010 at 22:08

Geranium leaves are one of my dislikes, fausty and horrible. The Crown Imperial is another that is very reminiscent of Dog Foxes...not nice!

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2010 at 22:21

I once came home from a weekend away to a horrible overpowering stink in the house. I really thought something had died. It took me two days to work out it was a beautiful lily in flower. When I put it outside, it smelled wonderful, but indoors it was way too overpowering. I think Gardenia can be a bit too much indoors too.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/11/2010 at 09:06

I love my Hellebores but cannot stand the smell of H.Foetidus and don't like the smell of "Sweet" Peas. I agree that Gardenia can be overpowering indoors - ok for a litle while and then it gets too much.

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