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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fragrant flowers, Hamamelis

I visited the Washington Park Arboretum in January and admired the blooming Hamamelis. There was strong fragrance in the air, but we were unable to tell which tree was the most fragrant. Can you tell me which variety is most fragrant of the ones in the Arboretum?

Also, I have read that Hamamelis virginiana is very fragrant but I don't know if it does well here in the Northwest.


Scent can be a subjective matter, but the local group Great Plant Picks does have an evaluation of various Hamamelis species and cultivars, and according to their list, Hamamelis mollis is exceptionally fragrant compared to the rest.

Missouri Botanical Garden agrees with this assessment, stating that Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis and its cultivars) is the most fragrant species.

About the scent of Hamamelis virginiana, Chris Lane's book Witch Hazels (Timber Press, 2005) only says "sweet scent." In his book, Winter-flowering Shrubs, Michael Buffin rates the scent of various witch hazels as follows:

  • H. mollis: highly scented
  • H. x intermedia: varies; 'Pallida' has most scent; 'Aphrodite' slightly scented; 'Allgold' is strong but slightly musky; 'Arnold Promise' has strong scent; 'Barmstedt Gold' is very slightly scented; 'Dishi' is highly scented; 'Diane' nearly scentless; 'Hiltingbury' weakly scented; 'Jelena' moderate; 'Moonlight' strong, sweet; 'Orange Peel' reasonably good scent; 'Sunburst' lacks scent; 'Vesna' very sweet; 'Westerdale' moderate; 'Winter Beauty' scentless.
  • H. japonica: sweet but faint
  • H. vernalis: musky
  • H. virginiana: slightly scented

Hamamelis virginiana is more commonly grown for providing astringent, or as commercial rootstock than as a garden plant. It is native to eastern North America, though it will also grow here in the Northwest. It has a habit of holding onto its dead leaves.

Here is another article which discusses fragrance in Hamamelis, from Swarthmore College's Scott Arboretum blog (posted 2/25/2011). the author says: "Getting my top ranking was H. mollis 'Wisley Supreme' and 'Early Bright' which do hold some leaves but have fantastic fragrance."

As an example of the subjectivity of smell, see the following from Val Easton's Seattle Times column:
"Q: I have purchased a Hamamelis virginiana and I don't think it is anything like (the fragrant plant) you have written about. Will you let me know exactly which witch hazel has great fragrance and blooms in January/February?
A: The liniment witch hazel is made from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana, but that's your plant's main claim to fame. The Chinese witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis), and plants crossed with them, are supremely fragrant and bloom in winter (H. virginiana blooms in autumn and its flowers are so small they're often lost beneath the leaves). Some of the earliest-blooming witch hazels are Hamamelis x intermedia, which have the Chinese witch hazels as one of their parents; 'Pallida' blooms earliest in late January or February; 'Diane' has dark red flowers, and 'Arnold's Promise' has large, bright yellow flowers a little later in the winter. All are deliciously fragrant."

Date 2018-06-19
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fragrant flowers, Hemerocallis

I've planted all sorts of daylilies that are supposed to be fragrant, but to my nose, the fragrance is barely detectable. Is there a trick to getting a fragrant daylily?


Fragrance can be a matter of some subjectivity, and it may also vary with different times of day and site conditions. Have you tried planting any of the varieties which have won the L. Ernest Plouf Consistently Fragrant Hemerocallis Award? The name of the award itself suggest that consistency of fragrance is an issue. A co-owner of B & D Lilies in Port Townsend, WA says that getting enough heat is the primary factor in producing a noticeable fragrance from your Hemerocallis.

Date 2018-03-14
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Rosa, Fragrant flowers, Air pollution

I wonder why my roses have lost their fragrance. My 'Double Delight' roses used to have a good smell, and now the flowers are bigger and there is no fragrance.


It does seem mysterious that a once-fragrant rose should lose all fragrance. There are many factors which might cause the perceived lack of scent. According to The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book (Timber Press, 1994), rose scent itself is complex, and is composed mainly of geraniol along with many other substances. It is mainly released from tiny cells on the surface of the petals: "Scent is produced mainly in the petals and is given forth when the growth of the flower and the atmospheric conditions are right. From this it will be seen why double roses have more volume of scent than singles [...] scent is especially apparent in most flowers when the air is neither too cold nor too hot [...] In extreme conditions, such as wilting, extra scent may be released [...] Usually the best fragrance is obtained from a newly opened flower growing on a healthy, well-established plant on a windless day when growth is exuberant [...] we may expect fragrance to be at its best on a day when the air is warm and moist rather than dry, when the plant will be functioning well. It is not that moist air conveys better than dry, but that the plant is giving it forth in greatest quantity."

From the above, you may want to consider the following

  • When you discovered the rose had no scent, were the atmospheric conditions optimal for the release of scent?
  • If scent is most prominent on healthy plants, are there any underlying reasons (pests, diseases, cultural problems such as overwatering, poor soil, etc.) the plant might not be at its strongest?

Other things to consider:
Environmental pollutants affect not only our sense of smell, but the fragrance emitted by flowers, as this 2008 University of Virginia study describes:
"'The scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment, such as in the 1800s, could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 meters; but in today's polluted environment downwind of major cities, they may travel only 200 to 300 meters,' said Jose D. Fuentes, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the study. 'This makes it increasingly difficult for pollinators to locate the flowers.'

The result, potentially, is a vicious cycle where pollinators struggle to find enough food to sustain their populations, and populations of flowering plants, in turn, do not get pollinated sufficiently to proliferate and diversify."

Another thing that you might ask is whether your rose was grafted, and perhaps you are getting a different rose coming up from the graft. The loss of fragrance and the different appearance of the flowers makes me wonder if this could be what is happening.

Date 2017-05-06
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May 31 2018 13:14:08