Have you noticed a strong sweet smell while walking past any trees lately? You might be smelling the flowers of lemonwood/tarata (Pittosporum eugenioides).
This native New Zealand tree is better known for its lemon-scented leaves than its flowers, which are small and pale. However, the flowers produce an almost overpowering honey-like fragrance when they bloom in spring. The flowers, leaves and resin of lemonwood were used as a perfume by Māori.
Lemonwood has separate male and female plants (the technical term for this is dioecious) and the flowers on each look different.
So why do flowers smell? They don’t do it for our benefit but to attract pollinators to spread their pollen to other flowers. Insects pollinate lemonwood and are rewarded for their efforts with nectar.
You might be wondering what I consider to be New Zealand’s most fragrant plant. My pick is Alseuosmia. In fact the name comes from the Greek alsos (grove) and euosmos (fragrant). Unfortunately they have a reputation as being difficult to grow in cultivation, otherwise I’m sure they would be better known.
My pick for third place is the mountain cabbage tree (Cordyline indivisa).
What do you consider the best-smelling New Zealand flowers?
I stumbled upon this while searching for nice-smelling NZ natives to plant in my garden. I have a pittosporum tenuifolium down the bottom of my garden and it took me several years to work out that the wonderful smell that enveloped my garden on still spring evenings was coming from this tree. I hadn’t even noticed its flowers; they’re so tiny and almost black, and they don’t smell during the day when I stand next to it to hang out my washing. But at night, the smell is incredible. I had to literally follow my nose to find where it was coming from, which was difficult as it was so strong it seemed to be coming from every direction!
Really interesting blog. I had noticed the strong perfume in the evening but was attributing it to something else which I thought didn’t normally have a perfume. This year we seem to have a real flourish of flowering lemon woods. I have now gone up and smelt the flowers. Definitely them!
Great blog Lara
Not sure about most fragrant. But my pick for one of the most fragrant plants would be the orchids in the Earina genus (E. autumnalis and E. mucronata). When in their prime, I always smell these plants before I see them.
I’d forgotten about Earina – they have a wonderful scent too.
I thought that the native Dendrobium in yellow and white with fragrance was the best fragrant native flower we have. It’s absolutely stunning but hard to find.
My favourite is also Alseuosmia! I’ve noticed that Pittosporum tenuifolium flowers have a sweet scent too.
Hi Katy, I think I read somewhere that Pittosporum tenuifolium is most fragrant at night – is that your experience?
This is certainly my experience with Pittosporum tenuifolium. The trees at our place are in full bloom at present and we only notice their scent when we walk past at night. Lara, do you think this could be because they are attracting a moth pollinator?
I’m not sure Ant – maybe someone needs to do some research into its pollinators (are you volunteering?).
Excellent article thanks!I’ll be sure to keep an eye for those plants and flowers!