WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., July 10, 2000 -- To Juliet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but today the love-struck teen would be hard pressed to find much scent at all.
When it comes to fragrance, today's roses and flowers are practically lifeless compared to the blooms Shakespeare was familiar with. Unfortunately for gardeners, modern plant breeding has caused many of the most popular flowers to lose much of the scent of their ancestors. As plants have been bred to maximize color, shape, and other characteristics, such as long-lasting blooms after cutting, the scents have mysteriously disappeared.
Now, Natalia Dudareva, assistant professor of reproductive biology in the Department of Horticulture at Purdue University, has found new insights into the biology of floral scents -- insights that might result in sweeter smelling roses, plus a bouquet of other benefits.
Improving floral scent is a goal of the $20 billion per year horticulture industry, but it is also important to agriculture. Almost three-fourths of all crops depend on insect pollinators attracted by floral scents. Honey bees alone are responsible for pollinating one third of U.S. crops.
Boosting floral scents would not only make flower beds more aesthetically pleasing, it would also improve the yield and quality of many crops.
Plants use floral scents to attract pollinators or to repel harmful insects. Floral scents begin as oils that are produced by the petals in most plants. Because these oils evaporate easily in warm weather, scientists call them volatile compounds. The aroma of a flower may contain as few as seven to ten different oils, as in snapdragon or petunia, or as many as 100 different chemicals, as is the case with orchids.
Dudareva has been studying floral scents in snapdragon, which she selected because it is one of the few modern plants that have a strong floral scent. "Most scientific work has been done on a Californian plant called Clarkia
Contact: Steve Tally