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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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