Flower Perfumes Attracting Pollinators for Millions of Years

When you think of fresh flowers a couple of defining features probably come to mind; aesthetic beauty of course, and fragrance. Flower fragrance compounds are used in modern day scents for human use, as well as perfumes for the home. They are used to make people seem more attractive; to draw them in, and intrigue them 😍. They are use to make a space more inviting, a fragrant version of ‘come hither’ 😉

Flower fragrances in nature are used for exactly the same reasons, to attract and intrigue, to invite and lure the pollinators.

A recent study has shown that flowers from the Cretaceous period may have had similar fragrances as their modern day counterparts. What is extraordinary, is that the study undertaken by Oregon State University has shown that primitive flower varieties used their fragrance to attract pollinators. Modern day flowers use both fragrance, as well as colourful petals and showy designs to lure pollinators, however these ancient ancestors relied on perfume alone.

The evidence shows that floral frangrance originated some 100 million years ago…we are talking back when dinosaurs roamed!

“I bet some of the dinosaurs could have detected the scents of these early flowers,” said George Poinar, an entomologist at Oregon State University. “In fact, floral essences from these early flowers could even have attracted these giant reptiles,” said Mr. Poinar.

Preserved flower encased in hardened tree sap
Source : Oregon State University

The flowers were immortalised in hardened tree sap, known as amber. The team researched glandular laurel flowers (Cascolaurus burmensis and veined star flowers (Tropidogyne pentaptera) found in Myanmar.

Whilst the scent of the flowers could not be retained within the amber, what was preserved was the tissue structure responsible for producing scents. They also found that the secretory tissue was similar to their modern day descendants. This suggests that these Cretaceous flowers could possibly have produced similar essences to modern flower varieties. Check out the resemblance to Christmas Bush from New South Wales.

Tropidogyne pentaptera. Source; Oregon State University
Christmas Bush
Christmas Bush has an uncanny resemblance to the Tropidogyne pentaptera preserved in Myanmar Amber. Image: John Tann / Wikicommons

“It’s obvious flowers were producing scents to make themselves more attractive to pollinators long before humans began using perfumes to make themselves more appealing to other humans,” said George Poinar.

We all know how vitally important pollination is. Without it, the world’s food production ceases. But it almost seems obsurd to think that flower essences, something we use today for cosmetic and hygienic purposes was key in plant reproduction all those years ago.

Fwf x

Feature image : Greg Nunamaker

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