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?