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wild flowers

Wild forests have remarkable, yet individual, scents. Different parts of different plants emit different smells.

If a flower produces an odor, it’s usually to attract pollinators. Fragrant flowers attract bees, butterflies, moths and bats. Rancid flowers, which mimic the smell of carrion and feces, depend on flies and beetles to cross-pollinate. Pacific northwest skunk cabbage is an excellent example of a fetid smelling flower that relies upon flies.

Some odors, on the other hand, may be protective and part of the mechanisms that plants use to discourage herbivory. And some plants produce toxic chemicals but do not produce odors – animals learn quickly to avoid these plants.

Most of the odiferous plant compounds found in flowers are so-called essential oils. They are made up of complex compounds and once released into the air they quickly evaporate.

There are about 20 different chemical groupings which make up essential oils. Those of spruce, pine and firs belong to the terpenes. The paint remover turpentine comes from terpenes. The oranges and yellows of flowers, fruits and leaves also belong to terpenes. As does latex or natural rubber, which comes from the South American rubber tree.

Certain plant parts produce scents which tree scientists do not fully understand. For example, on a hot summer afternoon, ponderosa pine bark has a mellifluous butterscotch smell. The exact reason is not known.

Balsam poplar and black cottonwood produce a sweet honey-like smell that comes from their buds. As buds break and leaves unfurl, they are coated with a potent natural insecticide. It is no wonder that the bees collect this sticky bud substance which they make into propolis a potent antibacterial and anti-fungal sealant that prevents ants from entering their hive. Nor should it be surprising that the poplar buds contain efficacious antiseptic properties that are excellent in fighting throat infections. Bee propolis, which can be found at all health food stores, is a terrific antidote for effectively treating sore throats.

Plant fragrances and essential oils have, in fact, been exploited by humans since the time of the Egyptians. They used concoctions of tree tars, cinnamon, wood chips and cloves, among other things, to wrap and preserve dead bodies.

The Egyptians also pioneered perfume and its development more than five millennia ago. Italy and France incorporated some of this essential plant technology thousands of years later and today continued the lucrative plant-based tradition of making perfume.

The most costly of pure essential plant oils is the attar of roses, produced in the Valley of Roses near Sophia, Bulgaria. Not only is it highly soothing for the central nervous system but it is an effective natural antidepressant.

Eucalyptus essential oil has medicinal properties known to ward off air-borne viruses. When I travel, I always place a couple drops of Eucalyptus oil on my hands, rub them together, and take two or three deep breathes of this strong-smelling natural tonic.

Essential oils are used in many household products from solvents, detergents, furniture polishes, paints, paper and inkjets to pet foods.

Wild forests contain an unlimited supply of goods and ecosystem services. Scientists are just beginning to discover some of the many different uses of these non-timber forests products or ecosystem services. It is imperative that conservation biologists protect all wild forests as they also contain a rich array of medicines and the “new oil” of the 21st century – WATER.  Senseless destruction of Nature must be stopped; therefore I support a moratorium on halting logging of the remaining ancient boreal-, temperate- and rain-forests on planet Earth.

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

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Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2012. All rights reserved.


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