Would a Rose in Any Other Climate Still Smell as Sweet?

Written by Matt Barrett on . Posted in Learn

This Valentine’s Day, as many folks appear to be thawing out from the recent extreme winter weather, those needing to bolster their romantic plans will be happy to know that roses are one tough species.

According to the Historic Roses Group (www.historicroses.org), roses have been on the planet for 35 million years. That’s about 32 million years older than Lucy. But, it’s comforting to think she must have received dozens of roses in her time from hopeful suitors. Bottom line: by any other name … the rose would probably be extinct! This resilient species has endured and adapted to many changes to the Earth’s climate.

But, which roses respond to which climates? And, do other flowers share the rose’s tough-as-nails history?

To answer the first question, the Historic Roses Group held a “Selecting Roses for Climate Change” exhibit that featured climbing and shrub roses that can be grown successfully in four different basic climates: hot & dry, hot & wet, cold & wet, and cold & dry.

You can see the interesting breakdown of rose species in each climate category here.

Specifically, the cold & wet category features “some of the most rugged roses on the planet.” Of course, this means you can’t use weather as an excuse in the event you fail to honor your loved one with a rose or 12 today. Sorry, slackers.

OK, but what if you really can’t find a rose that’s up to snuff (or sniff)? How might climate change affect other flowers you might be looking for?

Well, it appears the jury is still out.

Last February, a BBC News report suggested flowers may actually become more fragrant, generally, as a result of climate change.

Then online news site Good.is followed up on that story with an on-the-ground account from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where scientists seem to be finding that flowers there are losing their fragrance due to changes in the climate.

Either way, the culprit in question is a group of chemicals known as the biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs). They’re the “smelly chemicals” as noted by BBC’s Earth News.

These BVOCs all play a role in helping plants grow, communicate, reproduce and defend themselves.

According to scientists in the BBC report, the higher the temperature, the more BVOCs are emitted. The increased fragrance caused by more BVOCs could confuse would-be pollinators such as bees and could cause plants to spend more time on “high-alert” as certain BVOCs play a role in plants communicating to one another about herbivore attacks.

But, then there’s what’s not being smelled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to Dr. Abdul Latif Mohamad at University Kebangsaan Malaysia, increased temperatures are causing “scent tissues” to burn up faster, which is resulting in a decreased “scent trail.”

Latif has found that bees and other insects are on average travelling further for nectar as the flowers in Kuala Lumpur emit less scent.

Latif suggests that one way of fixing this problem is to artificially enhance scent by adding certain chemicals to flowers with the hope that future generations of these species will naturally incorporate the increased scent.

While the effect climate change may have on flower fragrance still seems quite murky, it would be one sad Valentine’s Day if it turns out our planet’s flowers need cologne.

Matt Barrett is marketing manager for climate change at The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr user Olaf S (Rose). Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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