Stargazers have no scent this year

Asked June 6, 2017, 2:07 PM EDT

I have one of my plants blooming now and the flowers have no scent. I'm hoping my others will smell like they should. Is this first one just blooming too early this year or is it because of the winter we had? I have 6 of them which grew to about 7-8 feet last year. The others are not flowering yet but are growing nicely. The plants appear healthy.

Multnomah County Oregon lilies

1 Response

Thanks for your question about your lily. First, are you certain this is the same lily that smelled so divine last year? (Sometimes, lily bulbs get mixed up in the garden store, but planted together.) But that may be too obvious.

So, let's look at why plants create flowers that have a scent. It has been hypothecated that plants initially 'invented' scents to repel other living things (insects, animals, fungi) from eating them. Over time, they needed help getting pollen from the anther to the stigma, and, eventually, to the ovule, to create seeds. Bees and moths, among many others, were attracted to the nectar hidden in the base of the flower, and managed to knock pollen off onto the stigma in the process. Or, if it's the type of flower that is either male or female but not both, they needed pollinators to get pollen from one flower to another. Both smells and bright colors and patterns attracted the pollinators. Pollinators: food. Plants: sex. Win, win.

A Purdue professor writes this:

"Plants tend to have their scent output at maximal levels only when the flowers are ready for pollination and when its potential pollinators are active as well. Plants that maximize their output during the day are primarily pollinated by bees or butterflies, whereas those that release their fragrance mostly at night are pollinated by moth and bats. During flower development, newly opened and young flowers, which are not ready to function as pollen donors, produce fewer odors and are less attractive to pollinators than are older flowers. Once a flower has been sufficiently pollinated, quantitative and/or qualitative changes to the floral bouquets lead to a lower attractiveness of these flowers and help to direct pollinators to unpollinated flowers instead, thereby maximizing the reproductive success of the plant."

It is no secret that we are experiencing a severe bee decline. What if (assuming that the plants know whether there are adequate numbers of bees, etc. for pollination) the plants decreased the volatile compounds that made them so gloriously 'smelly' because no one they 'cared about' was being drawn to them? (I assure you that they don't give a thought to our enjoyment of them!)

I've spent quite of bit of time researching for an answer to your question, without much success other than the above. It would be interesting if you would keep track of both the strength of the smell, as well as the timing of it and, if possible, the incidence of bees, butterflies and moths (if you're up observing at night) on your lilies.

Let us know!