PlantTherapy: The Smell of Paperwhites

updated May 10, 2019
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paperwhites by Adam Graham via flickr

A recent writing in Old House Garden’s Bulb Gazette said what we have been thinking – Narcissus can be stinky:

“Spring Starts with Stinky Narcissus
Spring has sprung for many of you (we’re jealous!), and your tazettas may already be blooming. These cluster-flowered narcissus include paperwhites which are often forced on pebbles for winter bloom. Some gardeners love their rich fragrance, and others can’t stand it…

“Our California friend and tazetta expert, Bill Welch, explains, “About a quarter of the population cannot stand the scent of paperwhites, and that has poisoned their attitude towards the tazettas as a whole. Someone I know was doing a study of the chemical components of fragrance in various flowers, and he found that paperwhites had a lot more indole in them than other tazettas. Then he told me that indole is the same chemical given off by E. coli! Of course I don’t usually mention this to people who like paperwhites and ask if the others ‘smell as good'”!

On the other side of the fence, our Texas friend, Greg Grant, writes: “I love the smell of all narcissus including paperwhites. Living on a farm however, the ‘manure’ tinge doesn’t affect me, I guess. Not everybody thinks it smells like manure. A new gardener I worked with said, ‘Ooh, smells like pee pee!’ The general rule is the more yellow in the flower (cups or petals) the better the scent (inherited from Narcissus tazetta orientalis) and the more white, the more ‘manure’ the scent (inherited from N. papyraceous).

There you have it. You can see some of Old House Garden’s varieties here. And if you are curious about more of Old House Garden’s topics, you can subscribe to their newsletter and take a look at their archives here.

Photo by Mr. Greenjeans via flickr. – probably crocuses, not paperwhites!

matt at apartment therapy dot com