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Making Scents of Spring
The smells of spring are in the air! When you look at most spring flowers, you may think that it is a pleasant smell that attracts animals and insects as a source of food. But did you know that some beautiful flowers smell a little sour and still seem like a tasty treat?
Plants produce many different scents through glands from their leaves or flowers to attract a variety of pollinators. Maybe you have spied a butterfly sipping from elderberry flowers, or a bee foraging pollen from sunflowers. You might picture only certain species of flies that would dare to visit a smelly flower like skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). If you look a little closer, you may find that bees, beetles and butterflies also like to visit unpleasant-smelling flowers.
Here is an activity that will have you sniffing around the garden: Try to find a variety of plants and flowers that smell sweet and sour and compare the different kinds of pollinators that are attracted to each. Is it only one kind of insect or animal, or is there a variety for each? Is there something else about the plant, like bright flower color, that may be attracting the pollinator? Record your observations and invite your friends over to compare notes and help to share in a curiously smelly good time.— Stephen Brueggerhoff, former Public Programs Manager at the Center