Help ID this (natural) mystery floral scent?
July 31, 2013 1:59 AM   Subscribe

Every now and then this incredibly gorgeous floral fragrance wafts into our house, and I always thought it was a neighbor spraying on scent at a time when the breeze currents are just right for it to drift our way, but when I mentioned that I wished I knew what brand of perfume it is, my husband said that, no, it is actually a flower (or flowering vine), because he's seen and smelled it before, but he doesn't know what sort of plant it is, or remember what it looks like. I'd love some suggestions about what it might be. I'm sure it's not Jasmine, unless it's some specific type I'm not familiar with. We're in Greece.

I'm very familiar with the scent of natural Jasmine, and I'm not that fond of it because it strikes me as sort of "sickly sweet." This does seem somewhat close, though. I'm no good at all at describing scents, but I'd say it's feminine, sweet, but not overly sweet, and "rounder," "soft," maybe "creamy," not at all sharp, acrid or overpowering. Perhaps it has a honey note (I'm not actually really sure what people mean when they say that), so possibly honeysuckle? But it doesn't smell like honey to me (and I wouldn't like it so much if it did), and honeysuckle is fairly common, I think (?), so it seems like I should have smelled this before if that's what it is.

I'm not usually fond of food scents as perfume scents generally, so this fragrance is nothing like vanilla, pumpkin, coconut, chocolate, tea, spice, it's not fruity, etc. From what I recall of gardenia scents I've smelled, it's not like that either; it's more kind, subtle and gentle. For other descriptors, I'd call it joyful, but not necessarily "bright" or fresh in terms of being green or sunny / citrus. I would not call it "sexy" or "seductive." It's not musky, earthy, or woodsy, nor does it have what I would think of as a tropical scent, it doesn't have a "hippie" vibe, and is nothing like baby-related scents. I wouldn't call it "young" or "old."

Adjectives I'd use for it might be blissful, sublime, entrancing, generous, soothing. If I were to personify it, I would maybe say it's what Galadrial might smell like. (hey, this describing a scent thing is hard!)

I'd love your ideas of what it may be so I can try some essential oils to identify it, and maybe wear it or use it in an oil diffuser in the house, or acquire some for our courtyard if it will grow in a pot.

(For non-interesting reasons I can't really ask the person whose garden I think it might originate from – nothing weird, just logistical.)
posted by taz to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hyacinth? I had some at my old house and it kind of reminded me of Jasmine, but nicer. It smells really nice. Somehow like Jasmine but 'fresher' -- I never got sick of it.

I'm not sure how popular they are in Greece, but they were relatively popular in Italy, and my Dad loved them.
posted by Dimes at 2:15 AM on July 31, 2013

Is some kind of citrus tree flowering nearby?
posted by Nomyte at 2:20 AM on July 31, 2013

Response by poster: Many orange and lemon trees, and some pomegranates, but they are everywhere in my neighborhood, so if it were from them, I should be smelling this scent all the time.
posted by taz at 2:29 AM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: I really think it sounds like honeysuckle (which doesn't smell like honey at all, to me). Or perhaps freesia or jonquil?
posted by Salamander at 2:41 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by MuffinMan at 2:45 AM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: Seconding that honeysuckle doesn't actually smell like honey at all. But it has many of the other qualities you describe, including the "sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't" one. Honeysuckle, as I know it, smells strongest in the evening.

Otherwise you should look for lime trees in your nearby-hood. They're blooming right now (even in Greece - scroll down...) and they smell overwhelmingly.
posted by Namlit at 3:21 AM on July 31, 2013

Shoulda added Lime=Linden.
posted by Namlit at 3:22 AM on July 31, 2013

There are different kinds of jasmine, with variations in scent. I like all of them, but I like the pinky-white one's smell much better than that of the star-shaped pure white ones. So it could be.

However, more useful in terms of identification: is it blooming now or has it already passed? Hyacinth, freesia, jonquils and the pinky-white jasmine all tend to be spring flowers. Honeysuckle is a summer flower so if you are smelling it now, that is more likely. Though the white star type of jasmine is also summer. Does it smell more strongly in the night or the day? Roses, for example, smell much more strongly in the daytime whereas jasmine and honeysuckle need nighttime to bring their smells out. (Not saying it's rose, I presume you know that one!) Anyway, sometimes you just need to wander round and sniff people's gardens and see if you can find it somewhere else.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:35 AM on July 31, 2013

The first scented plant I would think of for Greece is Myrtus communis, Myrtle.

This site Wild herbs of Crete describes it as It has the most pure, light, but yet amazingly full, harmonious and round scent, and a spirit of light and beauty. There is nothing heavy and seductive about the oil, as it is the case with other flowery scents such as Ylang Ylang and Rose
posted by Azara at 3:40 AM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: Honeysuckle is my guess, too. They're currently in bloom in my part of the US, and I'm impressed how the scent travels. Even though I grew up with the vines all over my yard, I probably would have trouble recognizing the fragrance (which isn't honey-like at all, more of a generic floral) without seeing the plant.

I also wouldn't rule out orange blossoms; they have a distinctive, sweet, non-citrusy smell. Sometimes called "neroli" in perfumes, if you decide to go hunting for the smell in stores.

Linden has a really nice scent that is a little cleaner and soapier to my nose than most flowers. Linden is also known as lime tree/lime blossom but isn't actually related to the fruit, confusingly; I have no idea what the flower of the citrus tree smells like.

Lilacs have a strong, sweet fragrance and have clusters of small four-petaled flowers; they bloom in the spring, however.

Tea roses have a fantastic scent that travels well; it's reminiscent of green tea and slightly fruity, not the fussy rose scent often found in commercial fragrances.

I have no idea if plumeria is at all popular in Greece, but it has a strong fragrance that's often found in perfumes, so it's worth putting on your to-smell list. Same with tuberose and freesia. And I wouldn't rule out gardenia just yet, either; the flower is softer and nicer than most of the perfumes imitating it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:51 AM on July 31, 2013

A flowering Tea Olive Bush - the most wonderful scent!
posted by pamspanda at 4:06 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd say honeysuckle too. A neighbour has one in her garden and the scent wafts over to me when the breeze is in the right direction.
posted by essexjan at 4:16 AM on July 31, 2013

A long shot, since I don't know if they have them in Greece or if they would be flowering right now, but flowering hostas smell wonderful and the scent (to my mind) resembles your description.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:40 AM on July 31, 2013

Holly? I have a holly tree, but because the branches are high and the flowers small, the scent is quite diffuse and hard to identify as coming from that tree. It surprises me every year.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on July 31, 2013

Response by poster: Does it smell more strongly in the night or the day?

I usually catch the scent in the daytime, but at night our windows and doors are closed against insects, so I can't be sure about when it is strongest. (I smelled it this morning, which is what prompted my question... and it seems like I've most often smelled it the morning, which perhaps could be still part of a stronger night fragrance?)

It seems to be a spring and summer thing (our spring is probably like a lot of other people's summer).
posted by taz at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2013

Mock Orange, perhaps?
posted by h00py at 7:51 AM on July 31, 2013

Ask a neighbor, I'm sure someone knows.

Also, citrus trees only flower before they produce fruit, so you'd only smell it if there were buds on the trees. (I grew up near citrus in Arizona.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on July 31, 2013

Yes pamspanda mentioned a tea olive bush which is also called a sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans, prominent in New Orleans, and your description of feminine, sweet but not too sweet, kind, subtle and gentle are exactly how I described the aroma desperately to a boutique perfumier in the French Quarter before she shushed me, nodded sagely and handed me a bottle of Sweet Olive oil.
posted by sestaaak at 8:25 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Plumeria rubra tricolor which has a beautiful and subtle citrus note attached to a much less intense aroma of regular white/yellow frangipanni. It would certainly grow in Greece and it would be in flower about now I'd think. I don't think it would carry far on the wind, but this could be something mixed in with a local endemic herb/flowering vine. (but I'd vote a jasmine biovar of some sort if your hubby is right and it *is* a vine)
In any event, I'm with Ruthless Bunny : this is the sort of topic to generate some great neighbourly conversations.
posted by peacay at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2013

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:32 PM on July 31, 2013

Do gardenias grow where you are? My gardenias are the most beautiful scent I've ever smelled.
posted by raisingsand at 3:53 PM on July 31, 2013

Yeah, I would have totally said Daphne - it's almost spooky how the scent just wafts in one day, and you can't imagine what smells so wonderful. It's an unexceptional looking shrub, with not very exciting looking flowers, easy to overlook. But I agree with asking neighbours, someone knows what it is.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 5:08 PM on July 31, 2013

For asking neighbors, you don't have to ask the neighbors who have the plant.
posted by yohko at 5:12 PM on July 31, 2013

The most striking, joyful plant smell I've ever smelled is that which comes from the balsam poplar. The only thing that makes me think I should add an answer here - because, let's face it, I have no idea about the flora of Greece - is that I honestly do not know of any other smell I could describe as blissful in the way you do above, and because its smell is spring, even if you haven't come across it in a decade.
posted by calico at 5:43 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: Keep thinking about this. I still think honeysuckle is a good bet. But the other thing you could try is going to a nursery/plant/garden shop and ask them. And also sniff things.

And on further look, that site is pretty good on different kinds of smells all round, though does go the perfume angle. That could be helpful.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:22 PM on July 31, 2013

Gardenia or frangipani?
posted by shazzam! at 8:10 PM on August 1, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, it seems that it is Honeysuckle. I got a Honeysuckle fragrance oil (not essential oil – it seems that real honeysuckle essential oil is overexpensive just for trying to ID a scent) and it evokes the fragrance, though it's just fairly pleasant, and not at all heavenly-sublime. But it indicates that is what I'm probably smelling.

I don't think I'll manage to get the scent I adore in a bottle ... though I'll give it one shot, with the Italian cologne L'Erbolario Acqua di profumo Caprifoglio (I'll let you know how that works out), and will just try to acquire some honeysuckle to grow in our courtyard. Thank you very much, everyone!
posted by taz at 9:41 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

In many places, honeysuckle is considered a weed. So it should be pretty easy to grow - that's the nature of weeds, right? Glad you cracked it!
posted by Athanassiel at 10:20 PM on September 9, 2013

You're just going to have to live with enjoying this magnificent scent only for a short time every year for the rest of your life. What an excellent thing to look forward to!
posted by h00py at 7:54 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My guess is that one day you'll find an incense stick that mimics it and you'll be in heaven for that brief olfactory moment.
posted by h00py at 8:17 AM on September 10, 2013

Response by poster: Update on the cologne: I got the L'Erbolario Caprifoglio in the mail (direct from Italy) today, and this is probably just about as close as it's possible to get to my (no-longer-a) mystery scent, I think, aside from the actual flowers. It's really, really lovely: fresh and light, sweet but not over-sweet, or cloying, or too simple. It seems to capture the fragrance "on the air" as opposed to an intense, concentrated HERE'S SOME HONEYSUCKLE SMELL FOR YER NOSEHOLES. (I had to toss the honeysuckle fragrance oil after trying it in an oil burner; it was making me feel sick, and I was afraid it had ruined the scent for me.) So, success!

Thanks again, everyone, I look forward to trying some of the other ideas offered here, too.
posted by taz at 1:22 AM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

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