Smell of the week: mimosa

Ambling home from a light dinner and lovely white wine at Table 310 in Lexington Kentucky (where VisitLex, incidentally, was making a promotional film for local fine dining), West Third Street was ripe with cool evening odors emitted by plants such as tea olives and persian silk trees. I blogged about tea olives a while ago and how their scent is not detectable to everyone but it seems that there may be a perception threshold for Persian Silks too as my friend only had a hint of the scent, ethereal but strongly evocative. Perhaps coincidentally, these trees too are native to Asia, like the tea olive. The trees, or Albizia julibrissin are commonly called mimosa in the US but not classed as such horticulturally. They do look like some species of mimosa and the scent is not unrelated, having caused both taxonomic and popular confusion. The ‘mimosa’ scent often used in perfumery is part of that subfamily Mimosoideae but in the acacia genus, who scent is much heavier. One perfume claims to feature the scent of the silk tree but I haven’t smelt it to confirm…

Mimosa flowers are interesting since they are actually individual flowers that form what looks like one flower to us. As much as I love the appearance and scent of silk trees, they are considered a highly invasive species in many areas and threaten local ecosystems. That said, the scent is as lovely and delicate as the blossoms, which is unusual for a plant that many consider to be a weed! According to Mottram and Flament in “The volatile constituents of the flowers of the silk tree, Albizzia julibrinnin‘ (from Flavour Science: Recent Developments), there are 75 volatiles in the scent of Albizia julibrissin, most oxygen-containing. The oxime compounds in silk trees are related to those found in the flowers of citrus and coffee plants! If you see one, inhale deeply!


Published by Kara C. Hoover

I am a bioanthropologist living in Alaska studying human olfactory variation and prehistoric human health and diet.

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