Friday, May 1, 2009

Mystery & Lure of Perfume

First published in 1927,  C.J.S. Thompson's book is a delightful read. Quote from Mystery & Lure of Perfume:

A curious circumstance connected with the perfumes emitted by certain flowers, is the development of the odour at the time when some insects are most active.

Some plants, like petunias, have only a slight odour during the day, but have quite a strong perfume in the evening, when they are attractive to certain moths
The dark pelargoniums also, which have no odour in the daytime, smell like hyacinths at dusk, and are then visited by night moths.
Other flowers which are odorous in the sunshine and attract bees, give off no perfume after sunset. This of course can be explained, and is no doubt due to the warming influence of the sun on the essential oil in the plant.

It has been conjectured that there may be some connexion between the colours of flowers and their odours, and Cohler, in making some experiments on the subject, found that white flowers come first among those giving sweet odours, by a large majority. Yellow flowers are next, and those of a red colour follow closely. Those of blue, violet, and green come far behind, and last of all the flowers of orange or brownish hue.

So far we have only mentioned flowers that emit a sweet-smelling perfume, but there are others that give off repulsive and evil odours which are not so well known. Among these are the mouse mushroom (Tricholoma myomyces), which has an odour like that of mice, a species of orchis smells of goats, and the leaves of the Spiraea ulmaria have an odour similar to carbolic acid.

The stinking hellebore click here as its name implies, has a most unpleasant odour, and the leaves of the tooth-leaved maiden plum of the West Indies, when bruised, emit a sulphurous smell, and birds that happen to break them are said to fall asphyxiated and are unable to fly away for some time afterwards.

The Arum dracunculus, which has a large liver-coloured flower, exhales an offensive odour so like putrefying carrion that blow-flies and other insects mistake the flower for decomposed meat, and come to it from all quarters to deposit their eggs.
There are several other plants which, owing to their repulsive odours, although their flowers are of considerable beauty, are called carrion plants.

There are also some plants which give off odours that are more curious than actually offensive, such as fungus or morel of the marchella species, which on being bruised smells like roast beef, and some varieties of crane’s bill that have an odour very like roast mutton.

The flowers of the yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) are sometimes called the “brandy-bottle,” on account of the similarity of their odour o that spirit, and the catkins of the goat-willow have the same smell.

The horse-shoe vetch (Hippocrepis comosa) has an odour like cheese click here, and the Philadelphus coronaries has a flavor and a smell similar to cucumbers.
There are instances in which very dissimilar odours are emitted under certain conditions by the same plant. Thus the Tritelia uniflora aspecus, a species of white lily that grows in the neighbourhood of Buenos Ayres, has the perfume of violets, but when the plant is bruised it has an odour like garlic.

What true Londoner does not welcome the smell that salutes his nostrils after a prolonged stay abroad – that curious odour, a blend of petrol, tar, and smoke, peculiar to our streets, that may be called the smell of London?

The story has recently been recorded of a certain planter who lived in the up-country in India, that when the manufacturing season was on, he would go into the engine-room for a smell of hot oil which reminded him of the ship that brought him out from England and which he hoped one day would take him back. This smell of hot oil was a link between him and home.
To another individual the odour of burning wood from a newly lighted fire will recall a much disliked schoolroom in which he passed unpleasant hours when a youth, forty years ago.
The smell of tar will sometimes recall a certain ship or a sea-port, and many other instances might be mentioned where an odour or perfume will bring back the memory of persons, places, or events that happened long ago.
-C.J.S. Thompson Mystery and Lure of Perfume 1927

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