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.
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.
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.
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.