Pungent

I could smell it from twenty paces away.  It didn’t help that the gentle breeze coming off the lake picked up the perfumed cloud and carried right to me.  It settled over me like heavy fog, an olfactory assault of such magnitude that it made me want to run away.

The limbs of Mexican Plum (a.k.a. big tree plum or inch plum; Prunus mexicana) covered in bunches of brilliant white spring flowers (2009_03_08_012583)

As I approached, I could see the tree was abuzz with insects drawn by the brilliant white blossoms and the sticky scent hanging in the air.  Every branch held countless bunches of spring flowers, together the mass of them producing a siren call to pollinators far and wide.

The brilliant white spring flowers of Mexican Plum (a.k.a. big tree plum or inch plum; Prunus mexicana) with insects buzzing around (2009_03_08_012589)

A woman passing by mentioned how she loved the tree, adored the subtle and spicy aroma of its show.  Subtle and spicy?  I would hardly have called it that.  The longer I stood in its presence, the more nauseated I felt from the overbearing sweetness of it, as though I swam in a pool of licorice-scented perfume.  It could only be called subtle if Rush Limbaugh could be called subtle.

A close-up of the white spring flowers of Mexican Plum (a.k.a. big tree plum or inch plum; Prunus mexicana) (2009_03_08_012591)

Though I tried to approach for some closer shots, especially of the hoard of buzzing insects flitting about the branches, I simply couldn’t stand it any longer.  I was overcome with the pungent, heavy air.  I had to get away.

Several days later as I walked with a friend, we passed that same tree.  I pointed it out, noted that it remained a cloud if insect activity, and mentioned the potent smell.  My friend smiled and said, “Oh my yes!  I love Mexican plum.  In spring it smells like fresh corn tortillas.”

I shook my head in wonder at how three people could have such disparate impressions of the tree’s bouquet.

— — — — — — — — — —

Photos of Mexican Plum (a.k.a. big tree plum or inch plum; Prunus mexicana).  It does generate its own insect cloud in spring, in large part due to the abundance of flowers and the strength of its redolence.  It also seems to demonstrate how people can have widely different impressions of the same stimuli.

In the first and second photos you can see small portions of the veritable swarm of flying insects buzzing about the tree.

11 thoughts on “Pungent”

  1. It SNOWED three inches in the Pennsylvania Piedmont today – and those flakes weren’t plum flower petals.

    We’ve got a non-native double-file viburnum on our property that produces such an intense foetid odor to attract insects that I have to close the windows when it’s flowering, so I can appreciate how you had to get away from the Mexican plum’s intense fragrance.

    1. I hear your pain, Scott. The first two weeks of February were brutal down here in Texas: three ice storms in nine days, bitter cold and brutal wind chills, and general woe if you stepped outside (and only fools were driving in the mess). I’m glad someone flipped the switch and now we’re enjoying early spring, just as we should be.

      Oh, um, oops. Didn’t mean to rub that in. Sorry!

      Your viburnum sounds exactly like what Mexican plum smells like to me. I wonder if it has the same effect of smelling dramatically different depending on the individual…

  2. Jason, LOVE that last photo. Ohh la la! I can’t place the smell off the top of my head but I’m guessing I’ve smelled ’em. I can’t wait for Mountain Laurel to bloom once I get to Texas. That stuff is like grape koolaid, and yes, it can be a bit much at time, but …mmm smells so good. Love the photos!

    1. Thanks, Jill! I’m rather fond of that last photo as well.

      I’m so glad you mentioned mountain laurel. There are places in West Texas where the smell of mountain laurel mixes with the scent of Mexican plum, and the combined aroma is stunningly awesome. It always produces a strong sense of spring in me. But each one alone can be overpowering.

    1. You’re always more than welcome to come down here, C. You can enjoy our early spring and follow it north over the next few months. Or heck, you could stay down here long enough to enjoy tornado season.

      Enjoy tornado season. Huh. Guess I am a weather nut if I’m saying tornado season is something to be enjoyed.

  3. Love Mexican Plum! I planted one on the side of my house 2 years ago. It is doing well enough, but nowhere near the show you’ve seen. Hmm…come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even looked lately…will have to do that tomorrow!

    The heavy sweet scent – I know what you’re talking about, though my reaction is just short of overboard – so I really enjoy it.

    1. Oh, I’m envious, Amber. I’d love to have one nearby so I could enjoy the fruit. Do you leave them for the wildlife or do you get to enjoy some when they’re ripe?

      And I’m glad someone else thinks the smell is overly sweet, even if you don’t think it’s overwhelming. At least you didn’t say corn tortillas or subtle and spicy. I still have a hard time accepting those descriptions!

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