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Why spring smelt sweeter in the past: Scientists say pollution from diesel fumes is damaging the scent of plants

March 17, 2018 8:18 AM
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As the garden returns to bloom, you may have found yourself lamenting how the scents of spring are not as vivid as they once were.

But while claiming things were better in your day is usually dismissed as nostalgia, it seems flowers really did smell sweeter in the past.

A British scientist says pollution, especially from diesel fumes, is damaging the scent of plants in towns and cities and making them harder to detect from a distance.

Five of the most common floral aromas in our gardens – lavender, daffodils, roses, snapdragons and lilies – are affected.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx), mainly from diesel cars, harms the compounds that create their scents.

The phenomenon of pollution snuffing out floral scents was described in the New Scientist last month, which explained how pollinating insects distinguish between plants using the unique bouquet of chemicals they release.

Dr Robbie Girling, from the University of Reading who is leading a study on diesel emissions, believes bees’ difficulty in sniffing out flowers may be contributing to their decline.

Guy Barter of the Royal Horticultural Society described the study’s findings as ‘concerning’ but ‘not surprising’.


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