Scents of Evanescence

I often come across comments that many spring flowers are unscented. Tulips, cherry blossoms, and snowdrops fall into that category. But are they really? Tulips smell of earth, green sap and unripe apples. Cherry blossoms have a mild bitterness that contrasts with their frothy looks. Snowdrops smell green, dewy, with a curious musty note. Their aroma is mild, lacking the generous sweetness of late spring-early summer blooms, but they’re hardly unscented.

These watercolor fragrances are among the treasures of spring. Taking a bit of effort to discover them makes their delicate beauty more memorable. Even more so when you find them in an urban setting.

One of my favorite springtime aromas is that of apricot blossoms. The scent is surprisingly bold–bitter almonds boiled in honey, but to find it, you have to mimic a bee and get just as close to the flower. The season is brief, barely a week, after which the perfume vanishes. And you can’t find anything like it, not among other plants nor in a perfume bottle. Everything called “Apricot Blossom” is a travesty. I don’t regret it. Some things are meant to remain inimitable.

What are your favorite evanescent scents?

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44 Comments

  • Susan: Hello Victoria and BDJ readers,
    In the Spring, I love the subtle, buttery aroma of yellow primroses. It seems that only the yellow ones have a discernible fragrance, and one has to be very close to the flower to detect it. May 3, 2017 at 8:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I need to find some yellow primroses to smell! May 5, 2017 at 6:33am Reply

  • sandra: I love mimosa. Though most people will say they can smell it without getting close but that could be dependent on where you live, in the city I have to get up close. Most flowers are competing with the smell of nuts and asphalt..

    V-did you get my email from the Ukraine Institute, I ended up going and seeing the exhibit. I sent you some photos. Enjoy May 3, 2017 at 8:21am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t checked that email account yet, but I will do later. Thank you! May 5, 2017 at 6:34am Reply

  • Eudora: Dear Victoria, what a beautiful post…I do treasure spring fragances in my city and my little daugther loves our treasure hunts and she is sooo good in it. I will read it to her. Thanks beautiful Victoria. May 3, 2017 at 8:42am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: I am amazed that tulips are mentioned! they smell, and they smell very strongly! Every tulip has a different smell. Earthy, green, yes, and apples as well (notably the red and white ”Lustige Witwe” variety). Some tulips smell sweet (notably yellow tulips). Most flowers in flowershops don’t smell, but tulips do! I found a lovely tulip with trumpet-shaped flowers, colour: soft orange (at Albert Heijn’s). Their smell was intensely sweet, almost ”symphonic”, hard to describe. The whole room was fragrant.

    Cornelia in Amsterdam, the city of tulips. May 3, 2017 at 8:52am Reply

    • Michaela: Yellow tulips I have at home, and they smell indeed sweet, with a dash of honey. Beautiful.
      I’m happy for your springs in the city of tulips 🙂 May 3, 2017 at 9:38am Reply

    • OperaFan: My church gives away its potted Easter flowers the Sunday following, and I always aim for the hyacinths and tulips. This year, I managed to snach a pot of yellow tulips which I left in my car while doing errands. After a while, when I opened the car door, I was greeted with a blast of perfume so strong and beautiful, it took a while for me to realize it was coming from the tulips! All tulip scents I have known up until then have been sappy green, so this was a lovely surprise.
      I have planted them strategically in my garden to scent areas that have heavy traffic and are easily accessible for a whif of their beautiful fragrance.
      🙂 May 3, 2017 at 11:31am Reply

  • Gina: Irises May 3, 2017 at 9:54am Reply

  • Kate: Lilac. We have a giant lilac tree at the bottom of our garden, and every Spring I look forward to its all-too-brief flowering period. Especially in the evening, it releases great gusts of fragrance that seem to roll from the tree in waves. It is one of the most beautiful of all natural perfumes, and I’ve never smelled a manmade perfume to match it, although Guerlinade comes close. May 3, 2017 at 9:56am Reply

  • Allison C.: Beautiful post! I will have to think about my favorite evanescent scent, but you’ve reminded me of one of my favorite poems, “To the Brief and Fragile” by the poet Maria Eugenia Baz Ferreira where she mentions “to sea foam and mists of oblivion…” May 3, 2017 at 10:05am Reply

  • Geri Ethen: My favorite early spring scent comes from the daphne plant. They positively shout of spring just around the corner!
    Next comes lilac aromas. I am so lucky to have both a double white and a dark purple lilacs in my back yard.
    Next comes my patch of lilies of the valley which are so delicate.
    The ones I haven’t noticed an aroma with are the forget-me-nots with their beautiful blue and green stems and flowers.
    I think I live in paradise! May 3, 2017 at 10:05am Reply

  • Michaela: I love your post. I love tulips, cherry and apricot blossoms, and of course snowdrops scent.
    Magnolia has a beautiful scent, also. May 3, 2017 at 10:09am Reply

  • Clair: Cyclamen. Easy to miss because you have to get so close.

    And one of several that perfume seems unable to mimic: Freesia, especially the yellow-orange ones, although both the purple ones and the white ones with yellow throats can be highly fragrant as well. I’ve never smelled a perfume that comes close. May 3, 2017 at 10:38am Reply

    • Lydia: Clair, I completely agree. I was so surprised the first time I smelled real Freesia flowers because I’d never liked freesia perfumes (some note common to them all turned my stomach, sadly). Real freesia is so sweet and beautiful. May 6, 2017 at 10:22pm Reply

      • Clair: It’s so true! I discovered freesia when I was a student in Berkeley/Oakland. You could find neglected clumps of bulbs growing under old shrubs! One or two stems would scent my entire flat, and there is nothing quite like it. I also am put off by perfumes said to have a freesia note. They usually seem to have an aquatic or “fresh air” aspect that is instant headache for me. I think there are many flowers like that, which just can’t be captured in a perfume (that’s why I garden and fill my space with wonderful natural fragrances). I love many orange blossom fragrances, but there is still nothing like an Orange or Meyer Lemon tree in bloom. Daphnes, Lilacs, English Roses (Abraham Darby and Jude the Obscure, and so many more). Worth the search though! May 7, 2017 at 12:03am Reply

        • Lydia: So true.
          I’m puzzled that no perfumers seem to be accurately representing the diverse and beautiful scents of roses in rose gardens and botanical gardens. Most rose scents I’ve smelled seem to be based on the standard florist red rose, or some variation of that.

          I love that there’s a rose named after Jude the Obscure! May 7, 2017 at 1:21am Reply

  • spe: Linden blossoms! I have only smelled them in Estonia. May 3, 2017 at 11:55am Reply

  • Carla: Lovely post! Thanks for reminding me to stick my nose everywhere May 3, 2017 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Aurora: A great seasonal post. Bluebells which seem to be everywhere have the fragile scent of spring in London, and what you experience with the elusive apricot flower I do with apple blossom, also to be enjoyed very close and for a short time only. I was wearing Cacharel Premier Delice today and from a 4 spritzes this morning I felt its aura of fruit and flowers all day: so many thanks for having drawn my attention to its merits in your post of a few years ago. May 3, 2017 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: Two things come to mind. I have double flowered snowdrops. When they are cut and brought inside, in a little posy, they are scented. They smell like very gentle narsissi.
    Then there is the blossom from the horse chestnuts. The air smells white flower-sweet when they are blooming. So pretty. May 3, 2017 at 6:35pm Reply

  • kat: We experienced insane snowfall last week – a record-breaking amount of the stuff came down within 24 hours. I had placed protective sheets over my mother’s flowers and when I wanted to relief them from the weight I was hip-deep in snow (and I’m not exactly small). Once I had managed to free the sheets from the snow I gently tucked to remove the last bits of the fluffy stuff and that was when I got some signs of life from underneath – just a brief olfactory greeting. Peppermint on one end of the garden and lavender on the other sent me a little thank-you note. Much appreciated as it was hard work and some plants were not exactly helpful by catching on to the sheets and tearing them apart (let’s just say my feelings for roses were put to a hard test). May 3, 2017 at 6:52pm Reply

  • Eric: When I smell tulips they usually have a faint honeyed smell, almost as if a vegan perfumer got really close to capturing the scent. Not intense or narcotic but softly there. May 3, 2017 at 9:37pm Reply

  • Tati: Hyacinth. Every time I pass a pot of them at the market I bury my nose for a whiff. Ostara takes care of the spring flower craving. Love lilac and am eyeing a bottle of En Passent. Mimosa is so buttery rich but I wear Fleur de Cassie year round so it isn’t limited to spring and definitely not evanescent. May 3, 2017 at 10:31pm Reply

  • Inma: Some days ago the perfume of Paradise trees or Cinamomos was all around here in Sevilla.
    It is “balsamic”. Somehow, my body and the no-conscious part of my nose feel their perfume, then I realize what is going on. The air in the city is filled with their perfume after the orange blossoms. It announces we are in the middle of our little spring time. It is as delicate as sensual.

    Thank you Victoria for your article, for your question! May 4, 2017 at 5:10am Reply

  • Andrea: My favorit scent is that of the tree on my way to one of my piano students. I think it is a kind of a cherry tree, but I can’t really tell. I first met this scent in December 2012 while hurrying to my next lesson. I just had to stop because of this delicate fragrance. When I looked around, I found I had passed a small tree with a few tiny white and slightly pink blossoms opening in midwinter. In late march the tree is well behaving and blooms along with the other cherry trees. I know it now quite a while and it continues blooming twice a year. May 4, 2017 at 6:09am Reply

    • spe: Very nice story. I love that it blooms twice. May 4, 2017 at 10:34am Reply

  • Klaas: Hello all! Thank you Victoria, for all the lovely, lovely recent posts. Your blog brings me so much joy!

    I love the scent of the air after the rain in summer, particularly if the weather had been dry for a long time…I don’t know how to describe this smell, it is not all that pleasant actually. It’ a little sour (ozone?), a little bitter, but also green and incredibly romantic. Apres l’Ondée couldn’t be further from the truth!

    Also, the smell of hay comes to mind. I love it when the farmers bring in the big, yellow rolls of hay in summer. The air becomes heavy with the aroma of chamomille and hay, sweet, but also slightly dank, even rotten. There’s nothing like it. I like to wear Oriza Legrand’s Foin Fraichement Coupé, but I’m glad it doesn’t smell like the actual thing…..the real stuff is best enjoyed outside in the countyside 😉 May 4, 2017 at 6:41am Reply

    • Andrea: I love that smell, too. I found something worth reading maybe, the wiki-article for petrichor: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrichor May 4, 2017 at 8:59am Reply

      • Klaas: Thank you so much for sharing, Andrea! I always thought this smell reminded me of stone! Now I know it has a name….Petrichor…….I love it.

        So the smell is a result of a biological system to safegard seeds from sprouting during dry times. How intricate…….all I want now is a nich perfume house to release a geosmin based perfume 😉 May 4, 2017 at 10:30am Reply

  • Megan: Great post! I enjoy smelling golden trumpet daffodils (not narcissus) in the spring. I was always told they were unscented, but if you lean in, there is a fresh, slightly spicy smell, like peppercorns and cold rain. May 4, 2017 at 6:46am Reply

    • Terry Futrelle: I agree, Megan…Daffodils, freshly picked, will scent a room. Our little town is know for it’s many varieties of daffodil, and we celebrate, each spring, with a festival. I pick large bunches and place them throughout the house! May 26, 2017 at 7:54am Reply

  • Austenfan: You have made me crave the smell of apricot blossoms. I’ve just never really smelled them.
    At the moment I’m enjoying the smell of rain and damp earth, hawthorn and lots of other things that are in bloom and that I don’t the name of.
    In summer I adore the smell of my phloxes. May 4, 2017 at 8:17am Reply

  • ClareObscure: This has to be one of my favourite ‘comments’ sections, Victoria & contributers. Wow! The theme you have explored, of fleeting delicate scents of Spring…I did not realise evanescence was the term. (The musicians going by that name produce songs with a haunting quality, good name for their band.)
    Thanks, Victoria, for sparking such inspired comments. Your magazine articles are great.
    I grew up in the American Lilac capital, in NY State, Rochester.,NY. An inspired early 20th Century VIP planted so many lilac trees that an annual Lilac Festival was established.
    Still on a purple theme, wisteria, for it’s fragrance, beauty & rarity, even here in England where it best thrives.
    Lastly, magnolia, which loves the soil here & so delightfully adorns the gardens, both in Manchester & in Bristol where my grandchildren live.
    Michaela comments on the scent of it. I will try harder to pick that up, but can’t work it out. Maybe trying too hard. May 4, 2017 at 8:19am Reply

  • carole: The first things there grow here, through the light snow we still get, is tulip tarda. The granddaddy of all the tulips, it hails from Turkey. it’s tiny, and grows just along the ground, and is about as big as my thumb nail. Its scent reminds me of jasmine, and is so potent-out of all proportion to its delicate size. This tulip is also self seeding.

    I love the comments for this post. May 4, 2017 at 12:21pm Reply

  • jodee: My favorite spring effervescent scent is iris. I’ve never paid attention to the root, but after reading so many of your articles I know that the root is what is used in perfumery. What I love is the flower itself. Such a complex, soft and regal scent! Later in May when I will go about separating the iris roots in my garden I will be certain to smell the them too! Perhaps I will love their smell just as much as I do the flower! May 4, 2017 at 2:02pm Reply

    • jodee: Lol! I guess I have now learned a new word today. The correct term I see is evanescence! oops! *blushing* May 4, 2017 at 2:06pm Reply

  • Bilanxa: If you want to experience a tulip with a GLORIOUS scent, try variety Generaal de Wet. Hard to find, but if you do – you will never forget the scent, a cross between rose and strawberry to my nose. They are early tulips. May 4, 2017 at 2:21pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Bilanxa! What is the colour of that tulip? May 5, 2017 at 7:24am Reply

    • Lydia: Bilanxa, how wonderful! May 6, 2017 at 10:47pm Reply

  • OTA Mom: Everything called ‘plum blossom’ is also a travesty. Nothing realistic out there. Just this evening I stood in my yard, eyes closed, inhaling the narcotic heaven that is the last of their blooms. May 5, 2017 at 11:46pm Reply

  • Lydia: I miss the South so much in the spring. I used to walk around in a daze once the blooming time started because everywhere smelled like sweet flowers, even when you couldn’t see them.

    There was wild honeysuckle and jasmine growing behind my apartment, and the scent would fill my home when I left the windows open. Canopies of wisteria would bloom off the side of the road, usually competing with the kudzu for dominance. (Unfortunately, I’ve never found a perfume that came close to real wisteria; the CdG one didn’t work for me, sadly.) When the hyacinth showed up in the supermarket flower section I’d buy one or two for the apartment, and when the flowers died, I’d plant the bulbs out back to rebloom every year (at least until the squirrels started digging them up). You only need one hyacinth planter to fill an entire room with scent.

    Back in NYC, spring is contained in the flower displays of the corner markets, the few days of bloom from the flowering trees, the lilacs and roses in the botanical gardens. And there are those wonderful, cool, water-laden spring breezes coming in from the Atlantic that remind you how close the city is to the ocean. May 6, 2017 at 10:43pm Reply

  • parkerscout: Lilac. So difficult to mimic (I still do not understand why Yves Rocher discontinued the lilac perfume, so good and affordable! ), and elusive. Always wanting early spring to come just because of lilac. May 9, 2017 at 5:47am Reply

  • Vienette: Our yard is filled with things that bloom beautifully and smell wonderful, but my favorite surprise scent is when our Linden tree is in bloom.

    When the crabapple tree blooms you see it and bury your nose in the branches and it smells wonderful as you would expect. But when the linden tree blooms there are no tell-tale blooms that scream come smell me, but when I arrive home and step out of my car the linden always makes me stop, put my nose in the air and wonder what is that heavenly scent. Then comes the great annual aha and I go stand under the linden and breathe deep. May 12, 2017 at 4:47pm Reply

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