I was sitting at my breakfast table this morning thinking ‘what plant should be next for #AdventBotany2018″?  The rich smell of the blue hyacinth in front of me was filling the room when I had one of those ‘you idiot’ moments – er, have we done hyacinth yet?

Hyacinths are grown both for their large and bright flower heads and for their scent.  

Hyacinth odour

The scent of hyacinth flowers can be analysed by capturing the chemicals in the air around the flowers, known as headspace analysis.  Brunke et al. (1994) identified at least 40 different components of hyacinth odour.

Headspace analysis of hyacinth odour (Brunke et al. 1994)

But which of these 40 compounds matters?  It might be reasonable to assume that the major components of the smell are those present in the highest quantity but this is not the case.  Our noses have quite specific sensitivities so quite rare compounds can sometimes have an undue influence on the overall scent.  Recent reports on hyacinth scent suggest three main compounds are key:

So, when sniffing your hyacinths, think about that heady combination of ethyl 2-methoxybenzoate, ocimenol and cinnamyl alcohol and appreciate the challenging work of biochemists in the unravelling of this heady Christmas aroma.


Brunke, E.J., Hammerschmidt, F.J. and Schmaus, G., 1994. Headspace analysis of hyacinth flowers. Flavour and fragrance journal9(2), pp.59-69.

Kim S, Thiessen PA, Bolton EE, Chen J, Fu G, Gindulyte A, Han L, He J, He S, Shoemaker BA, Wang J, Yu B, Zhang J, Bryant SH., 2016.  PubChem Substance and Compound databases. Nucleic Acids Res. Jan 4; 44(D1):D1202-13. Epub 2015 Sep 22 [PubMed PMID: 26400175] doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv951

Knudsen, J.T., Eriksson, R., Gershenzon, J. and Ståhl, B., 2006. Diversity and distribution of floral scent. The botanical review72(1), p.1-120

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