Take Time to Stop and Smell the Native Plants

Monarda bradburiana

Fragrance is a magical attribute.

~ Carolyn Summers Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East

Native plants delight the eye, enhance our environment and provide for the local fauna ensuring, with careful attention to the soil, a healthy and enhanced ecosystem. While we are planting for the butterflies and bees and ants and birds, let us plant for ourselves as well. Install wildflowers (such as the Monarda bradburnianapictured above) with colors that delight our eyes and with fragrance that wafts beyond our sustainable landscapes into yards of all types, luring people to wonder what exactly you have growing over there and how they can get some.

Of course fragrance in flowers is there to attract pollinators and according to Summers “the intensity of the fragrances… varies considerably according to weather, time of day, if the plant has been pollinated, the plant’s health and heredity, and the individual plant itself.” Summer goes on to describe how she would design a fragrant garden using native plants and nature as a template.

Fragrance in our natives is not limited to flowers, we have plants with aromatic leaves, stems and twigs as well, encouraging an interactive experience with the landscape beyond sticking our noses in the blooms.  Some of these scents are subtle requiring getting up close while others create a pleasant aroma cloud (We will refrain from calling this “Flower Farts”) enveloping the entire space in a gentle and familiar scent.

Below are some of the fragrant native perennials, small shrubs and vines we offer. Do not forget to include the many fragrant native trees and shrubs like Magnolia, Tilia, Hamamelis, Lindera, Rhododendron, Calycanthus and Clethra.

Native Plants for Fragrance:

Milkweeds – Yes milkweeds are terrific host plants for monarchs and nectar food source for a wide variety of butterflies. But have you ever leaned in close to sniff the flowers? Heaven! Surprisingly sweetly scented, like honey, you will not want to take your nose out of them. Try it. Plant many species and see if you can detect the subtle differences.

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias incarnata NMN

Ascleipias verticillata

Asclepias Verticillata NMN

The Phloxes are another group of aromatic native plants. In particular Phlox paniculata and Phlox divaricata offer us some sweet smells.


Phlox paniculata

You may have to fight off some hummingbirds or bees to get your nose in one of the many bee balms that delight our olfactory sense.  In addition to the eastern beebalm mentioned above, try out Monarda fistulosa,


Monarda fistulosa

We must think beyond flowers when it comes to fragrance.  The leaves of Pycnanthemums smell minty and refreshing, while mounds of Sporobolus heterolepis grasses create a autumn cloud smelling of coriander

If you are looking for fragrant flowers at eye level try some Clematis viginiana

Clematis Virginana NMN

And some other to work into your plans:

Symphiotrichum oblongifolium – Aromatic Aster

Amsonia illustris – Shining Bluestar

Rudbeckia subtomentosa – Sweet Coneflower

Coreopsis tripteris – Tall Coneflower (You may need a ladder for this one!)

We know that what smells good to one person may be offensive to another, perhaps you would like to test the flowers out before creating an odiferous cloud in the landscape. Pay a visit to these public gardens with garden areas dedicated to fragrance and see what is appealing to you. While they do not all feature native plants, you can get an idea of fragrances that are appealing to you and one’s you would like to stay away from. You may also gather inspiration for how to most effectively use fragrant plants in a landscape.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Fragrance Garden

Rose and Fragrance Garden at the Arboretum of Penn State

Forsyth Park’s Fragrant Garden

Memphis Botanic Garden Fragrance Garden

Morton Arboretum Fragrance Garden

Fragrant Garden at the Tyler Arboretum

The Fragrant Garden at the State Botanical garden of Kentucky

Fragrance Garden at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens

Fragrance and Sensory Gardens at Colonial Park Gardens

Fragrant Garden at Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Theresa Lang Fragrance Garden at the Scott Arboretum

Martha Franck Fragrance Garden

What is your favorite plant fragrance? What is your favorite native plant for fragrance? What Fragrance Gardens have you explored?

One comment

  1. […] Sporobolus heterolepsis – Prairie Dropseed […]

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