Making Scents of Flowers

It's time for science to close its eyes and sniff

7:44pm, July 22, 2002

Take a deep, sweet lungful of jasmine fragrance–and admire its courage. Its swaggering machismo, even. For a strongly scented flower takes terrible risks, says scent biologist Robert Raguso of the University of South Carolina. The same perfume that draws invited guests to the flower can also tip off pests, thieves, and killers. "It's like a peacock's tail," he says. Raguso has had to turn to the science of visual signals for a classic example of inconvenient exuberance. There's barely been a science of biological displays of scent, he laments. In textbooks or seminal papers, "odor is either ignored or treated as insolubly complex," says Raguso.

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