Date: Fri, 13 May 1994 13:44:15 EDT


Subject: Flower scent and dialect


"And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes

and goes like the warbling of music) than in the hand, therefore nothing is

more fit for that delight, than to know what be the flowers and plants that

do best perfume the airs."

--Francis Bacon

Bacon may have believed that there was nothing "more fit for delight," but

few people these days seem to know "what be the flowers and plants that do

best perfume the airs." I've found that many folks are struck dumb when asked

to identify the source of a particularly cloying scent wafted on some June

breeze, be it in Nebraska or New Jersey. I'm curious to know what floral

fragrances--not so much of garden annuals or perennials, but of the woody

native and non-native plants (street trees in urban areas, for instance) that

make up your local landscape--are most familiar to people in your

neighborhood, and whether there are any distinctive local names for plants

based on their fragrance.

For example: I've always been interested in the host of plants whose flowers

give off a semen-like odor (gingko, barberry, etc.), and met someone here in

Arizona who calls an unidentified tree the "sex tree" because of this odor. I

think Linnaeus classified these smells as "Hircinae," i.e. goat-like in odor.

The ADS list members have such a treasure of linguistic idiosyncracy; any

botanical smell lore out there?

Osmically Yours,

Kevin Dann

Scottsdale, AZ (where pineapple-smelling acacias now fill the air)