It's The Ozarks By a Nose! (Part 1)
Updated: May 26, 2019
I'll admit I have a pretty sensitive sniffer. It comes with the job. Developing one's palate over many years of cooking, by default, also improves one's sense of smell. But you do not need to be a professional chef to appreciate the many fragrant flowers you'll find growing in the Ozarks. While you're keeping your eyes peeled for flowers, butterflies, bugs, and wildlife, keep your nose "peeled" too!
Let's start with the earliest fragrance you're likely to encounter: Witch Hazel. Sometimes called Winterbloom, these trees flower on sunny days in February. I cannot tell you what it is like to be hiking in the not-yet-awake, still-quite-dreary-brown woods and smell.. what is that? Did you smell something? Something floral and herbal, so faintly? The fragrance from witch hazel blooms can drift through the forest for a good distance, and you might just catch faint, teasing whiffs. You might never see the trees. But this is one of the the most glorious fragrances there is. It carries a reminder that winter is beautiful, and a promise that spring is just around the corner.
The next flower to stop you in your tracks is the Early Azalea. I have absolutely done just that: suddenly stopped, right where I was, and looked around to see what smelled so darn good. The first Azalea I saw this year was literally right under my nose. I was keeping a wary eye on my husband and the dog up ahead of me. I caught a whiff of something, stopped.. and there it was. In addition to smelling heavenly, they are also gorgeous. Keep an eye (and a nose) out for them April-June.
You're not very likely to encounter a Black Locust Tree out in the woods, but they are out there. They grow abundantly on Highway 49 heading south from Fayetteville, in many NWA cities, and they do make an occasional appearance on the trail. You can't miss them when they do show up in the woods. The clusters of white flowers are stunning, and their fragrance is heavenly and arresting.
This one should be familiar to you. Japanese Honeysuckle is everywhere. The pretty yellow and gold flowers, and the heady, sweet fragrance make it easy to see why people went nuts planting this non-native. While I know it's doing all of the terrible things things that invasive species are known for - crowding out native plants, affecting local insects, etc. - I still smile when I smell it.
Arkansas does have a native honeysuckle, the Trumpet (or coral)
Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, but it's a rarity in the woods, and its fragrance is not as strong as that of Japanese Honeysuckle. Or maybe it just gets lost in that riot of yellow and gold blossoms from its non-native counterpart. Our ruby-throated hummingbirds LOVE it, though, and it provides a welcome pop of color both in the woods, and in local gardens.
There are many more fragrant flowers to be found in our woods and parks: Mexican Plum, and other flowering trees, Multi-flower Roses (non-native), Wild Hyacinth..
This is just a sample of those that are likely to grab your attention whether you're looking for them or not. Next time, we'll take a look at flowers and plants that make you work for it a little bit more.