The atmosphere of autumn embraces us all, through crisp mornings, fiery foliage, and warm comfort dishes. We can’t escape the smell of pumpkin spice and cinnamon, but the Cleveland Botanical Garden boasts its own botanical array of seasonal scents. I’d like to share my “Top 5” with you and encourage you to get on the “scent trail” to visit and experience them for yourself.
1. Autumn Leaves
You can argue that you can smell autumn leaves anywhere, but most people in the world do not experience the brilliance of autumn as we do here. And that wonderful earthy smell? Why, that would be actinomycetes—bacteria instrumental, along with fungi, to break down all those discarded leaves.
2. Last of the Roses
In the Mary Ann Sears-Swetland Rose Garden, the blossoms are bursting one last time before the frost. Some of colorful blooms tout a lovely fragrance not often associated with autumn. Fun fact: there are 5 recognized scents for roses, depending who you ask: Old Rose, Myrrh, Tea, Fruity, and Musk.
Sassafras albidum is a native tree that bears three leaf shapes that turn a range from gold to scarlet. As tea, toothpaste, and root beer, a scratch-and-sniff of the leaves or twigs will remind you of a particular fruity breakfast cereal. You can find this tree in the Western Reserve Herb Society Garden and Woodland Garden.
Our native Lindera benzoin will reward you with a pleasant citrus fragrance throughout the year, but in the fall, the red-orange berries contrast brilliantly against the yellow foliage. Stroll through Woodland Garden and scratch and sniff the twigs or leaves to smell and if you find it to your liking, you’re in the company of the Spicebush Swallowtail, a butterfly who uses this shrub as its host plant.
5. The Katsura Tree
Returning to the Rose Garden, you might be greeted with the aroma of kettle corn or burnt sugar. Cercidiphyllum japonicum is the culprit, for as its yellowing leaves age, the compound maltol partners with a sugar molecule to release this well-known Cleveland Botanical Garden’s favorite scent. Any of the staff would be happy to point you in the direction of this tree, or you can follow your nose!
Stefanie is a new employee to Cleveland Botanical Garden, but she has been working with plants for over 20 years. Her career as a naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks, her horticultural experience in landscaping for the Village of Valley View, and her freelance artistry have nurtured her love for gardening and design. She is especially passionate about utilizing native plants as integral components of local gardens.