Podcast Transcript: Shakespeare once said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And that’s as true today as it was 400 years ago. What’s different now, though, is that their smell doesn’t travel as far as it used to. Or so say scientists in a study that appears online in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
Researchers at the University of Virginia made a mathematical model to show how the fragrance of flowers floats through the air. They found that the presence of pollution slows the scents down. Prior to the industrial revolution, the sweet smell of roses might drift for three-quarters of a mile. Now, downwind of a major city, a flower’s delicate bouquet can’t make it a full thousand feet. That’s because the scent molecules produced by flowers are volatile. They chemically react with ozone and other pollutants, and ka-bloomy. No more eau d’springtime.
The effect might pose a minor nuisance to modern poets, but it’s a major problem for flowering plants and the insects that pollinate them. Bumblebees find flowers by smelling them. Less aroma attracts fewer bees. Which ultimately means fewer flowers. So, stop and smell the roses. If you’re close enough.