The French Perfume Company Shaking Up the Industry

http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/08/meet-the-robot-disrupting-the-perfume-industry.html

By Kathleen Hou

Photo: Courtesy of Ex Nilho

 

For evidence that the perfume industry hasn’t changed much in decades, just take a walk through the perfume floor of a typical department store. The Perfume Cowboys may be slightly less prevalent, but the same marketing techniques still apply: salespeople shouting “Burberry!” “Chanel!” (and occasionally “Bieber!” “Swift!”) and trying to convince shoppers to buy the latest concoction via nasal assault. While the introduction of synthetics into perfume-making has yielded some technological progress, perfume companies can be hesitant to talk about it, fearful of dispelling the myth that every element in your fragrance is distilled from rose petals personally stomped by a perfumer in Grasse.

Enter Ex Nihilo, a luxury French perfume cooperative looking to shake up the conservative perfume industry — beginning with a perfume-making robot called the Osmalogue. The company’s three Parisian founders, Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royère, and Benoît Verdier, hope to do things differently. They launched with eight new scents, none of which are inspired by love, seduction, or any of the other themes perfumers usually reference. Instead, there is Vetiver Moloko, which is based off of the milk narcotic cocktail in A Clockwork Orange, and Fleur Narcotique, a scent that twists the flowery notes of neroli to become slightly metallic and druggy-smelling.

Inside Ex Nihilo’s Paris store. Photo: Courtesy of Ex Nilho

“Consumers are very educated — at every duty-free, you can find the same perfumes around the world. It’s standardized. Consumers want something different — they want something unexpected and personalized,” Verdier explains. On its site, Ex Nihilo says it wants to create “scents [the company could] easily recommend to Stanford postgrads or a European Center for Nuclear Research employee.” Each bottle of perfume comes with an intricate 3-D-modeled cap, the inside of which is YSL Moroccan blue, the company’s signature color and one that figures prominently at its first, Christopher Pillet–designed Rue Saint-Honoré store. At the boutique, customers experience scent via specially designed light installation. Fragrance are contained in funnel-shaped light “vases” called the vases de senteurs (scented vases). When the vase is turned on, it releases a small “pfft” of fragrance that the customer leans over to smell, an intimate experience that dispels all traces of unpleasant alcohol. Shoppers can thus try all of the scents without fragrance overload.

The Osmalogue sits in the back of the store, carrying out custom perfume orders. “Of course, it’s very romantic to have a guy doing everything by hand. But in terms of quality, the Osmalogue gives you the best quality — it’s very precise and allows for the most accurate weighing of raw materials, giving you the exact same quantity every time,” says Verdier. It’s the Grasse custom-perfume experience in the 21st century. Customers can choose to add or enhance certain raw ingredients to an already-existing Ex Nihilo fragrance and the Osmalogue will create the perfume in front of them, stamping their initials on the cap.

Ex Nihilo’s “vases de senteurs” or scented vases. Photo: Courtesy of Ex Nilho

The reaction from old-guard perfumers to Ex Nihilo’s contemporary approach has been mixed. “No one was expecting us — we are challengers in the market. We got some bad reactions from conservative perfumers — some came in to take pictures with their iPhone. Others haven’t said anything. They might have something to say in two, three years. At the moment, we don’t exist for them. We’re dangerous,” says Verdier.

Ex Nihilo will be opening its first store in New York at Bergdorf Goodman in September. You can find the company in the salon at Harrods or at 352 Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris.

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Underpinnings of drought tolerance in plants

Genome-wide analysis elucidates drought-tolerance system in Arabidopsis

Date:
June 11, 2015
Source:
American Society of Plant Biologists
Summary:
Drought is one of the most urgent environmental crises facing the world today. Scientists have now used a genome-wide approach to studying drought tolerance in plants and identified regulatory pathway that can be used to increase drought tolerance.

Arabidopsis seedlings after recovery from drought stress. Wild type on left, nac016 mutants on right.
Credit: Courtesy of Nam-Chon Paek

Regions all over the globe are suffering from severe drought, which threatens crop production worldwide. This is especially worrisome given the need to increase, not just maintain, crop yields to feed the increasing global population. Over the course of evolution, plants have developed mechanisms to adapt to periods of inadequate water, and as any gardener can tell you, some species are better able to handle drought than others.

Accordingly, scientists have invested much effort to understand how plants respond to drought stress and what can be done to increase the drought tolerance of economically important plants. As Dr. Nam-Chon Paek of Seoul National University in Korea stated, ‘We all expect that drought will be the major challenge for crop production in the near future. Understanding drought-responsive signaling and the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of drought tolerance in model plants such as Arabidopsis and rice provide new insight into how to develop drought-tolerant crop plants through conventional breeding or biotechnological approaches.’

Arabidopsis thaliana was the first plant to have its genome sequenced. Paek is the senior author of a paper to be published this week in The Plant Cellthat takes advantage of the genetic resources in this model species to reveal important underpinnings of drought responses in plants. Paek’s research group analyzed plants mutated in a regulatory gene called NAC016 and found that the nac016 mutant plants were more resistant to drought.

The researchers set out to understand how this drought tolerance came about by comparing the set of expressed genes (the transcriptome) in the mutants to that in normal (so-called wild-type) plants. According to Paek, ‘Genome-wide transcriptome analysis using drought-tolerant or -susceptible variants is a promising method to reach the goal of understanding drought tolerance’.

In this case, the scientists discovered that NAC016 is part of a mechanism to turn off responses to drought. This is important because in the wild, plants likely evolved to keep the drought-response pathways inactive until needed so that they could save the energy the responses would require. For agricultural purposes, though, the ability to control when the pathway is on would be a great boon to developing drought-tolerant crops.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society of Plant Biologists. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sakuraba, Y., Kim, Y.- S., Han, S.- H., Lee, B.- D.,and Paek, N.- C. The Arabidopsis Transcription Factor NAC016 Promotes Drought Stress Responses by Repressing AREB1 Transcription through a Trifurcate Feedforward Regulatory Loop Involving NAP .. Plant Cell, 2015 DOI: 10.1105/tpc.115.00222
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The truth about why things smell bad: Vibrating molecules

http://io9.com/5761442/the-truth-about-why-things-smell-bad-vibrating-molecules

stinkysmell

For over a century, our sense of smell has been explained with the “lock and key” hypothesis, which holds that each odor molecule has a particular shape that allows it to fit into particular smell receptors in the nose. But now a controversial study involving fruit flies suggests that hypothesis might miss the truth entirely – the secret, they say, is all in the vibrations.

The lock and key gets its hypothesis because all the odor molecules have a matching receptor, just like a key will fit a particular lock. The problem is that there are only a few hundred smell receptors in the nose, and we know that humans can detect tens of thousands of different odors. Besides, if shape is so important, you would think it had more of a relationship with what molecules smelled like. That often isn’t the case – for instance, the vodka and rotten eggs odor molecules are practically identical, but they obviously smell nothing alike. (Well…that might depend on the quality of the vodka.)

But we also know that molecules can vibrate, and even molecules that are nearly the same in atomic structure can have wildly different vibration patterns. That might be the missing factor that allows such a wide variety of smells to be interpreted by a relatively small amount of receptors. MIT researchers decided to test the theory:

“The researchers focused on Drosophila, or fruit flies, which don’t bring the same subjective odor experiences to the table that a human might. They placed the flies in a maze with two arms, into which they pumped nearly identical odor molecules. Odorants such as acetophenone and deuterated acetophenone, for example, have the same molecular structure; one is just built from a slightly heavier hydrogen atom, known as deuterium. Despite these miniscule variations, the flies showed a consistent preference for one arm of the maze over the other…suggesting that the flies could tell the difference between the odorants.”

The only real difference between the two odor molecules that the flies encountered was in the vibrational patterns, which suggests that was somehow what the flies detected in order to distinguish between them. It’s not clinching proof by any means, but it’s good evidence that flies do indeed use vibrations as part of their smell apparatus. But that doesn’t necessarily prove the same is true for humans, as Rockefeller University neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall points out:

“I think this paper nicely demonstrates that flies can tell deuterated and non-deuterated odors apart. I do not think that this result on its own either confirms or refutes the vibration theory.”

The next step will be to try to replicate these sorts of results in mammals’ smell receptors, efforts which in the past have met with failure. The ultimate truth may well lie somewhere in the middle – vibration might play a role in the human sense of smell, but the lock and key hypothesis might still have a part to play as well.

Via ScienceNOW. Original paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

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How do the mechanics of smell work?

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2989/how-do-the-mechanics-of-smell-work
A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

How do the mechanics of smell work?

April 22, 2008

Dear Straight Dope:

When an aroma reaches whatever internal sinus patch is responsible for the sense of smell, what is actually making contact with my body? Are scents particles or waves or is there some kind of bizarre dual nature like light? I am concerned that when I walk into a public restroom, poopie particles may actually be adhering to the insides of my nose and mouth. So what’s the dope on the mechanical nature of scents?

Dear Straight Dope:

I just picked up a clean set of keys that have rarely been used. I moved them past my nose and noticed a strong metallic smell. They don’t look or feel particularly oily. I assume that in order for me to smell them, they must be emitting molecules that are entering my nasal passage. This caused me to wonder if things that smell are continuously losing mass to the surrounding atmosphere merely by existing. Are my keys getting lighter and lighter just by sitting in a drawer?

SDSTAFF Fierra replies:

Cecil has addressed the fundamentals of this topic before, Rich, if only tersely. I refer to his column on how scratch-n-sniff cards work, wherein the Perfect Master writes that smell is “is a matter of molecules dislodging themselves from a substance’s surface and finding their way into your nose.” Here, however, we’ll go into the subject in somewhat more detail. These airborne molecules are called odorants, and the place where they get detected isn’t in your sinuses but rather at the top of the nasal passage.

From the beginning: Every time you inhale, you draw air into your nose. The air passes over structures called turbinates – seashell-shaped, mucus-covered bones that serve to (among other things) filter it, heat it to an appropriate temperature, and direct it, together with any odorants it carries, in an orderly fashion to the olfactory epithelium. In humans (a group that still makes up the bulk of our readership), this is a region of about one inch by two inches situated on the roof of the nasal cavity. It contains something like five million olfactory receptor neurons, and these connect directly into the olfactory bulb, a part of the brain that rests right behind the bone at the top of the nasal apparatus.

Projecting from these neurons into the layer of mucus covering the epithelium are cilia, tiny hairs containing the receptors themselves – the specialized proteins that bind to odorants. The chemical interplay between receptor and odorant is what’s known as a lock-and-key reaction: each receptor has a particular shape, allowing only molecules of a particular corresponding shape to bind with it. When an odorant binds to a receptor, the neuron transmits a certain electrical signal to the brain via the olfactory bulb and olfactory nerve.

Although humans can distinguish over 10,000 odorants, the sense of smell is very like the sense of taste – just as we experience complex flavors via combinations of five basic taste-receptor types (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami), we have seven primary odorant groupings. These are camphoric (think mothballs), musky (like certain animal smells), rose, peppermint, ethereal (like various solvents, e.g., dry-cleaning fluid), pungent (e.g., vinegar), and putrid (like rotten eggs or other sulfurous stuff). Primary odorants bind to our receptors in only one way, producing a unique olfactory signature. What are known as secondary odorants can bind, albeit more weakly, in two different ways to a combination of receptors and generate a composite signal. (As a certain combination of blue and red is perceived by the brain as magenta, setting off two receptors in this way produces a chemical reaction distinct from the one associated with either receptor on its own.) Some chemicals with the same formula but a different molecular structure – like orange and lemon scents, or spearmint and caraway – smell different, because they bind differently to different receptors. Rats are much better at detecting this sort of difference than we are; some pairs of mirror-image odorant molecules smell identical to us, but rats can tell them apart just fine.

It’s those electrical signals sent by the receptor neurons that the brain translates into smells. Some smells, like that of ammonia, are associated with single molecules; others, like the smell of a garden, are composed of a huge number of molecules in combination – various floral odorants, those emitted by greenery when it transpires, geosmin (the smell of wet earth), and so on. Your brain identifies scents via the relative strengths of the various components.

There’s plenty we don’t yet understand about the way smell works, but there’s been a lot of progress in the last 15 years or so. At this point we do know it’s strongly linked with memory (see Proust, Marcel) – the brain learns to recognize scents by recalling what was going on in the vicinity the first time it smelled them. During one’s formative experiences with, say, roses, the brain seems to tag the odorant signature with other sensory information retrieved at the same time: maybe what the flower looks like, maybe how the petals feel on the skin.

So yes, the smell you associate with an overused restroom really is caused by particles of feces, urine, etc, arriving inside your nose and binding with the receptors there. The good news, such as it is, is that some of the poop molecules (as well as much of the dust, germs, etc you breathe in) get stuck in the turbinates and never make it to the deepest recesses.

And remember, Rich, you could have been born a snake. The smelling procedure for a snake involves flicking out the tongue, catching airborne molecules on its damp surface, and transferring these to a sensory apparatus on the roof of the mouth called Jacobson’s organ. Think about that during your next bathroom break.

Now to Steven’s question. In general, yes, most things that emit a smell are doing so by losing infinitesimal amounts of their mass to the air that flows around them. As it happens, though, in the case of keys or other metallic-smelling objects, that’s not really what’s going on.

Again, there have been some significant advances in our understanding of smell in recent years. In 2006, Virginia Tech researchers Andrea Dietrich and Dietmar Glindemann demonstrated that when we smell the metallic odor we typically associate with iron, we’re not actually smelling the metal itself – there are no iron atoms in the odorant molecules. What’s happening is that the metal causes the oxidation of lipids (small fatty molecules) produced by the skin, and it’s the resulting chemical compounds – aldehydes and ketones – that we think of as smelling metallic.

The chemical interaction between blood and skin produces the same compounds, so it’s no surprise that blood is typically described as having a metallic tang to it. Humans are very sensitive to some of these substances – we can smell one such compound, called octeneone, at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion – leading the researchers to theorize that way back in our predatory past, this sensitivity may have helped us to track wounded prey.

It makes sense that there’d be an evolutionary advantage to being able to perceive certain other smells at very low concentrations – the smell of spoiled food, for instance, or those of naturally occurring toxins. We’re quite sensitive, for instance, to the smell of hydrogen sulfide, which has an odor threshold of 0.2 ppt. The catch, though, is that in concentrations above 150 parts per million hydrogen sulfide deadens the sense of smell very quickly, meaning it’s possible to get a lethal dose (800 ppm over five minutes will do it) without realizing it.

And sometimes evolution just gets it wrong: while some folks can smell cyanide at concentrations of 2 ppm – well below the 100-500 ppm level at which it becomes dangerous – about 20 percent of the populace is genetically unable to smell it at all.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL’S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU’D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.
Posted in Biology, Fragrance, Perfumery | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Sense of Scents: Why Odors Spark Memory (Podcast)

http://www.livescience.com/50525-why-odors-spark-memory-podcast.html

Wendy Suzuki is a professor of neural science and psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University (NYU). A popular speaker, she is a regular presenter at the World Science Festival and TEDx, and is frequently interviewed on television and in print for her expertise regarding the effects of exercise on brain function. Her first book, “Healthy Brain, Happy Life (Dey Street Books, 2015), will be released in May. Suzuki contributed this article to Live Science’sExpert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

While vision is arguably the sense scientists have studied the longest and most deeply, the human sense of smell is more complicated, more ancient, and more difficult to describe and observe. But science’s understanding of olfaction, the sense of smell, is finally starting to catch up to the science of vision, particularly following the work of neuroscientists Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Richard Axel of Columbia University.

In 1991, Buck and Axel were the first to identify the genes that encode the odorant (smell) receptors in the brain. Receptors can be thought of as the specialized “doors” or “entryways” into brain cells that give particular substances, like the chemicals that make up odors, access to the inner workings of olfactory brain cells. That discovery sparked a renaissance of research into the sense of smell , and Buck and Axel won the Nobel Prize for their work in 2004.

The new understanding of the sense of smell, focusing on those key olfactory receptors , is arguably one of the hottest areas of sensory neuroscience research today. Yet the science of smell goes far beyond just an understanding of the olfactory receptors. It is a fascinating and mysterious sense that contains many areas to explore, including the powerful link between the sense of smell and evocative emotional memories.

The scent of memory

Everyone has had that experience of catching a chance whiff of an odor that transports you back to a very specific time and place in your life. For me, it happened when returning to Lake Tahoe, California, for a conference a few years ago. One deep breath of that crisp mountain air, tinged with that tiny bit of propane, immediately transported me back to lazy summer camping vacations with my family in the woods around that lake. I could feel what it was like to lay in the sun on big rocks by the water, and the delectable flavor of campfire-roasted marshmallows in the evenings.

For my latest episode of Totally Cerebral (part of the Transistor series) called “What’s That Smell?,” I wanted to explore the emotional underbelly of people’s sense of smell. So I reached out to renowned colleagues, including neuroscientist Howard Eichenbaum, who is an expert on olfactory memory at Boston University; executive chef Anita Lo of Annisa restaurant in New York City; and NYU chemist Kent Kirshenbaum, the co-founder of the university’s experimental cuisine collective.

Podcast preview

The podcast tackles several questions about smell: How does brain anatomy allow certain smells to instantaneously transport people back in such a vivid way to a particular place and time? How do taste and smell engage humans ‘ most primal reward centers (the same areas that are involved in basic needs such as sex and food)?

Anatomically, Eichenbaum explained, the olfactory system has unique connections with two key regions in the brain’s temporal lobe: the hippocampus, which is critical for laying down new long-term memories, and the amygdala, critical for processing emotions. Unlike all the other senses (i.e., vision, touch and hearing), which require many connections — synapses — to reach the hippocampus and amygdala, olfactory information has immediate access to those systems. It therefore has the ability to lay down long-lasting memories linked to particular times and places (a specialty of the hippocampus) and to include deep emotional resonance associated with those memories (processed by the amygdala).

For a different perspective on the importance of the sense of smell, Kirshenbaum and I talk to Lo at her restaurant. We get the chance to eat some of her award-winning dishes, and Lo talks about how she plays with the power of smell to evoke emotion and memory. Through food, sense of smell plays an essential part in some of the most pleasurable parts of people’s everyday lives. Because food so often works to bring people pleasure and connection with each other, this makes the sense of smell an even more powerful tool to evoke the memories of key, food-centered pleasures in people’s lives.

About Transistor: Transistor is a STEM podcast from PRX. Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist and a neuroscientist — report on curiosities and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are special science stories from around the globe. Presented with support from the Sloan Foundation. For more podcasts, you can subscribe to Transistor.

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Revealed: the aftershave that turns women on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11524908/Revealed-the-aftershave-that-turns-women-on.html

The actor Steve McQueen was known for wearing Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage, which contains the stimulating chemical Hedione.

Steve McQueen on the set of Bullitt

With his ice cool demeanour and smouldering good looks it is no surprise that the actor Steve McQueen was attractive to women.

But new research suggests he may have a little help from his aftershave.

McQueen was known for wearing Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage, and scientists have discovered that a chemical in the cologne stimulates an area of the brain which is responsible for releasing sex hormones in women. Based on the evidence, it appears that the aftershave can, literally, turn women on.

Dior was the first perfume house to use Hedione

Although it has long been debated whether humans can actually communicate via pheromones – the chemical signals secreted by animals to help find a mate – researchers have found that scent of Hedione generates ‘sex-specific activation patterns’ in the nasal tissue which links to the brain.

It is the first time that a scent has been known to activate the pheromone receptor VN1R in humans.

“These results constitute compelling evidence that a pheromone effect different from normal olfactory perception indeed exists in humans,” says scent researcher Prof Hanns Hatt fro, Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany.

Hedione (chemical name methyl dihydro-jasmonate) – derived from the Greek word “hedone”, for fun, pleasure, lust – has a pleasant fresh jasmine-magnolia scent and is used in many perfumes.

It is synthesised from the organic compound methyl jasmonate which was discovered in 1957 and which is important in plants for seed germination, root growth, flowering, fruit ripening, and senescence.

Dior was the first perfume house to use the chemical in its men’s fragrance Eau Savage in 1966 and it was so successful that many women adopted it as their own perfume, leading to the introduction of a similar female version, Diorella in 1972.

Since then Hedione has cropped up in First, by Van Cleef & Arpels; Chamade by Guerlain; Chanel no. 19; L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake, Angel by Thierry Mugler, Blush by Marc Jocobs, Paco by Paco Rabane and CKOne.

“60 per cent of the time it works every time”: Brian Fantana from Anchorman wears Sex Panther (by Odeon)

To find out if scent could have an impact on the brain, the scientists analysed brain activity when a person smells Hedione.

They compared the results with the effects triggered by phenylethyl alcohol, a traditional floral fragrance.

Hedione activated brain areas in the limbic system significantly more strongly than phenylethyl alcohol. The limbic system is associated with emotions, memory and motivation.

But more significantly, Hedione also activated a specific area of the hypothalamus in women which is known to promote sexual responsiveness by flooding the body with sex hormones.

In animals, pheromones are known to trigger the same response. Mice have around 300 different genes for pheromone receptors but scientists believe that there are only five which still function in humans.

Most mammals also have a special organ located at the base of the nasal septum which picks up pheromones. According to current research this organ fulfils no function in humans anymore. Yet the new research suggests that the area still works and can be stimulated by Hedione.

“In the next stage, we want to find out which physiological and psychological parameters are affected when Hedione activates the pheromone receptor,” added Prof Hatt.

“We have already launched the relevant studies. But we also have to search for scent molecules in bodily secretions, which resemble Hedione and activate the receptor. With its help, humans could actually communicate with each other.”

The research was published in the journal NeuroImage.

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Now You Can Smell Like an Old Book

http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/03/now-you-can-smell-like-an-old-book.html?mid=facebook_nymag
By 

IMG_1975.jpg

I’ve always loved the smell of old books — and now, strangely enough, there’s a new perfume that will help me smell them all the time. J.T. Siems, the founder of Sweet Tea Apothecary, has developed a new scent, Dead Writers, inspired by her many trips to the library. It’s a rich and smoky unisex fragrance.

Part of a fragrance line inspired by historic figures and places (which includes a Marie Antoinette andHenry VIII scent), Dead Writers is an oil perfume that smells old but not stale — the most prominent note, clove, balances out the smooth notes of vanilla and tobacco. While I wore Dead Writers throughout the day, I couldn’t stop sniffing the pulse point on my wrist where I’d sprayed the scent. And, like a really good book, I just couldn’t put Dead Writers down.

Dead Writers Perfume, $80 at Sweet Tea Apothecary.

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40 of the World’s Weirdest Flowers

http://boingboing.net/2015/02/26/40-of-the-worlds-weirdest-fl.html

In the world of floristry, beauty is a common thing. But as with most things in life, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

#1. Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula simia)

Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert (cc)

Let’s face it (pun intended), this little guy didn’t take a whole lot of imagination to name;“dracula” because of it’s two long, fang-like petals and “simia” for its resemblance to primates.The two dark little eyes, fuzzy dotted eyebrows, and furry little nose and beard area bear striking simian resemblances that become even more obvious when viewed from a distance. The Monkey Face Orchid is rare oddity so don’t get upset if you’ve never seen one before. It is only found in the cloud forests of Peru and southeastern Ecuador at altitudes of more than 3,000 feet. It has the ability to bloom all year round and its flowers smell like ripe oranges, making it a prized addition to any orchid connoisseurs garden.

#2. Bat plant (Tacca integrifolia)

Photo courtesy of Vicki Ashton (cc)

The White Bat Plant is one of the world’s largest and most unusual flowers. It’s strange little black flowers come in clusters of twenty to forty and resemble bats’ faces, while the white bracts above resemble bats’ ears. The Bat Plant can grow to anywhere between 60 and 90 centimeters tall and comes in both a black version and a white version. The whiskers of the flower will also grow quite long, sometimes reaching all the way to the ground. An interesting fact about this weird wonder is that despite it’s resemblance to the lily it is actually a member of the yam family!

#3. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis amabilis)

Photo courtesy of Steve Marr (cc)

With more than 25,000 different kinds of orchids on the planet it’s no wonder that more than a couple of them made our weird list. The Moth Orchid is actually the most common type of orchid and bears the name because of its supposed resemblance to a moth in flight. Native to southeast Asia, the Philippines and northern Australia, the Moth Orchid isn’t exactly hard to find and it comes in nearly every color of the rainbow. So what exactly sets it apart from its 24,999+ orchid siblings? The Moth Orchid’s uncanny ability to have multiple blooming periods— when grown in optimal conditions of course!

#4.Corpse Flower (Rafflesia keithii)

Photo courtesy of Mike Prince (cc)

Next on our list comes a rather morbid yet beautiful flower— Rafflesia keithii, or, the Corpse Flower. There is a bit of a debate over whether or not the true corpse flower is the Rafflesia keithii or the Titan arum. If you’ve seen the movie Dennis the Menace than you may remember the flower that Mr. Wilson waited nearly 40 years to see bloom—that’s the Titan arum. The Corpse Flower of which we speak now is much more rare and can only be found in the rainforests of Indonesia. The Corpse Flower is a parasitic organism that has no visible leaves, roots or stems, causing some to argue that the Corpse Flower isn’t a flower at all—rather a fungus. In addition to its vampiric traits, the Corpse Flower is the world’s largest individual flower. Still wondering why it’s nicknamed the Corpse Flower? Let’s just say don’t breathe in its scent too deeply.

#5. Naked Man Orchid (Orchis italica)

Photo courtesy of Mark Freeth (cc)

Is it an alien? Is it a sea anemone? Nope, it’s the Naked Man Orchid! This little guy (or guys) also known as the Hanging Man Orchid, are native to the Mediterranean regions and resemble tiny little hanging naked men, from their dotted eyes and smiles right down to their you-know-whats. Naked Man Orchids come in all sizes and usually range in color from light purplish white to deep purply-pink. The Naked Man Orchid is classified as having a threatened status, perhaps because of its popularity as an antidiarrheal, antiflatulent and aphrodisiac. Another crazy fact about these fun flowers: they’re used in making the drink Salep, also called Turkish Delight.

#6. Hooker’s Lips (Psychotria elata)

Image source unknown

Hooker Lips, Hot Lips, Flower Lips— call them what you will— there’s no guessing how this plant got its name. The bright red bits that resemble a hooker’s bright red lips are actually bracts, not petals. The leaf-like bracts are only in their kissable state for a few days before opening to reveal the little yellow and white flowers within. The Hooker’s Lips Plant is native to the tropical regions of Columbia, Costa Rica and Panama, but due to its popularity with collectors and the deforestation of its natural habitat it’s landed on the endangered list. Hope we don’t have to kiss this little beauty goodbye anytime soon!

#7. Dancing Girls (Impatiens bequaertii)

Image source unknown

These little beauties are one of the rarest flowers around and prove quite hard to find even for the most determined plant collector. Nicknamed for their resemblance to dancing ladies in dresses, these tiny flowers are native to east Africa and come in white and light pink. The plant itself is quite petite, growing to just about one foot across and bearing blooms that max out at ½” long. Dancing Girls trail and climb, so they make lovely additions to hanging planters where you can enjoy their amazing flowers at eye-level. Dancing Girls will root wherever they touch soil and they make excellent indoor plants if you can find one.

#8. Subterranean Plant (Hydnora africana)

Photo courtesy of Martin Heigan (cc)

Nope, you’re not seeing things, that’s a plant not a monster! This south African subterranean plant is truly one of the most bizarre plants on Earth. Despite its crazy look it’s actually semi-common in the arid regions of south Africa. The Hydnora africana, also called Jackal Food by the locals, has no visible leaves, roots or chlorophyll. It is strictly a parasitic, underground plant whose flowers take nearly one year to emerge from the ground. Despite its monstrous look and disgusting scent, the Hydnora africana produces tasty berries that are simply delicious when baked over an open fire. The fruit also has astringent properties and has been used for preserving fishnets, for tanning, and infused in face wash as acne treatment.

#9. Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Photo courtesy of Björn Sothmann (cc)

This happy little guy gets its name from its uncanny resemblance to a smiling bumblebee, that is, if bumblebees could smile. Its name comes from the Greek word “ophrys” meaning eyebrow, perhaps referring to the fuzzy bits around the edge of the flower. The Bee Orchid is widespread across Europe the Middle East and even north Africa, however it’s becoming more and more scarce because the propagation process is so difficult. You see, the Bee Orchid requires a symbiotic relationship with a certain type of fungus in order to successfully grow, making transplanting extremely difficult. This orchid is more clever than it appears; the flowers are almost exclusively self-pollinating in the northern ranges but the coloring and shape of the flower mimics the look and smell of a female bee which entices male bees towards it to mate, thus expediting the pollination process!

#10. Swaddled Babies (Anguloa uniflora)

Photo courtesy of Tim Waters (cc)

Too cute! These tulip orchids, nicknamed Swaddled Babies, were discovered in the Colombian Andes between 1777-1788 during a ten year expedition, but weren’t named and officially classified until 1798. During certain times of the plant’s blooming stage, the flowers’ unique shapes resembles that of a baby all wrapped up in white swaddling. Their tempting scent attracts insects to the hinged lip of the petal where the unsuspecting creatures are shoved into the column, where a pack of pollen then attaches itself to their abdomens, increasing pollination.

#11. Parrot Flower (Impatiens psittacina)

Image source unknown

If you’ve never seen a Parrot Flower before you’re not alone. The Parrot Flower, a Thailand native, is classified as endangered and therefore not allowed to leave the country. The cool thing about the flower of this rare species of balsam is that when you look at its side profile, it looks just like a parrot or cockatoo in flight! Funny thing is, when images of this flower first began to circulate across the Internet they were dismissed as being “digitally manipulated” or Photoshopped because very few people had actually seen one since they are so extremely rare in the wild and it’s illegal to remove them

#12. Snap Dragon Seed Pod (Antirrhinum majus)

Photo courtesy of Laajala (cc)

If you’ve ever had any doubt as to whether or not a flower is a living creature, here’s the proof! Many gardeners and horticulturists are fond of Snapdragons for their bright colors and fragrance—not to mention if you squeeze the sides of a Snapdragon flower it looks like a dragon’s mouth opening and closing— but not so many gardeners and horticulturists know about the dragon skulls that are left once the Snapdragon has gone to seed! Interestingly enough, in ancient times people believed Snapdragons held mystical powers, and that and that growing them in one’s garden would protect one’s home from curses and evil. These tiny, perfect little skulls are quite a reminder of the circle of life, wouldn’t you say?

#13. Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major)

Photo courtesy of Daniel (cc)

This fowl orchid is just too cute! Native to Australia, this orchid’s unique shape helps increase its pollination. Sawflies are attracted to its scent and land on the “bill”, where their weight forces them down and inside the flower, temporarily curling the “bill” down and in. From there, the only way out is through a pollen-laden section of the flower where the sawfly finds and then emerges from. You’d think such a unique looking flower would be easy to find, however it’s reddish brownish coloring makes it blend right into the Australian bush. Want to add the Flying Duck Orchid to your home greenhouse? Sorry! This flower only grows in the wild, in Australia, and has never been propagated. Why you ask? Because in order to grow, it depends symbiotically on a certain type of vegetative fungus that only grows in Australia. It’s a great excuse to go on a vacation though!

#14. Tiger face in Moon Orchid (Phalaenopsis amabilis)

Photo courtesy of Max Fulcher (cc)

The moon orchid is one of Indonesia’s three national flowers the flower of charm, the other two are Jasminum sambac and Rafflesia arnoldii. Usually in nature, the stripings and markings on flowers are evolved to either mimic larger animals in order to scare away predators, or to resemble the genitals of insects in order to attract the largest number of pollinators and propagate. In this case, the Moon Orchid’s stripes look almost exactly like that of a tiger! Makes you wonder what kind animals this pretty little flower is trying to scare off.

#15. Chamber Maids (Calceolaria uniflora)

Photo courtesy of Miguel Viera (cc)

Some call it Darwin’s Slipper, other the Happy Alien, and still more call them Chamber Maids. But no matter what name they go by, these crazy little mountain flowers are truly one of a kind. Originally discovered by Darwin between 1831 and 1836, the Chamber Maids love cold weather and can still be found in profusion in Tierra del Fuego, South America. The little white “plate” section of the flower tantalizes local birds who eat it and, in doing so, gather pollen on their heads and in turn aid in the pollination of the plant. If you’re on the lookout for this plant be sure to look low; the only grow to be about 4 inches tall with blooms of just 2 inches long.

#16. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Photo courtesy of Sandy (cc)

The Passion Flower has more than 400 different varieties and is known as the Clock Flower in India and Japan. When it was first encountered by Spanish missionaries it was given its name because of its likeness to elements in the story of Jesus’s crucifixion which is also called “The Passion”. The Passion Flower produces an amazing scent that’s used commercially as well as a tasty fruit, which is used in flavorings for a number of different culinary dishes. Did you know that the Passion Flower is a food source for caterpillars and butterflies and is regularly grown on butterfly farms? Neat!

#17. Angel Orchid (Zygopetalum rhein)

Photo courtesy of Stefano (cc)

Named for its uncanny resemblance to an angel wearing a gown, the Angel Orchid is one of the gems of the orchid world. It was first discovered in 1932 and is native to the grasslands of India. The Angel Orchid is a rather short orchid in stature, topping out at just 5 inches high, with a single heart-shaped leaf that sits flat on the ground. The flowers themselves bloom in clusters ranging from one single orchid flower to five. If “April showers bring May flowers,” it’s the June monsoons we’ve got to thank for the early blooming of Angel Orchids. They are the first kind of orchids to bloom with the onset of monsoon season.

#18. Dove Orchid Or Holy Ghost Orchid (Peristeria elata)

Photo courtesy of Malcom Manners (cc)

Native to and national flower of Panama, the Dove or Holy Ghost Orchid produces delicately marbled white flowers that, if you look closely, look like they have a small dove with open wings perched inside. While most orchids can be found growing on or near trees, this type of orchid differentiates itself by growing on ground level, sometimes on rocks. The dove inside the flower is so intricate it looks almost like it’s been carved out of ivory. It is nicknamed the Holy Ghost Orchid because in the Bible, the Holy Ghost took the form of a dove. This type of orchid is so highly-sought and over-picked that it is classified as endangered in its native country.

#19. Corpse lily (Amorphophallus titanum)

Photo courtesy of Chris Freeland (cc)

This monster of a plant was made famous in the movie Dennis the Menace. It blooms so infrequently that whenever one does, it often makes local and sometimes global headlines. The Corpse lily is technically a compound flower and only grows in Indonesia, specifically Sumatra. It’s name comes from the Ancient Greek “amorphos” which means “without form, misshapen.” Not only is this flower extremely rare, it’s extremely large, some can grow up to 12 feet tall and weigh nearly 200 pounds! If you’re still curious as to where it got its name, just take a whiff of one. The flower gives off the putrid odor of a rotting body in order to attract insects for pollination.

#20. White Egret Orchid (Pecteilis radiata)

Photo courtesy of Hiroaki Maeda (cc)

Possibly one of the most delicate, intricate of the orchids, the White Egret Orchid looks almost exactly like a White Egret in full flight. The White Egret Orchid is the most distinctive of the orchids and is extremely popular with plant collectors and gardeners alike. A wild orchid variety, the White Egret Orchid flourishes in Asia and has also proven to successfully flourish in the United States as well. The flying bird-like flowers grow along a single spike, and a single spike can yield up to ten individual flowers and has the ability to grow up to sixteen inches tall! Quite the statement piece for any garden if you ask us

#21. Virgin Mary in Moon Orchid (Phalaenopsis amabilis)

Photo courtesy of Ol’Pete (cc)

This coastal-loving orchid comes almost exclusively in white and glitters as if covered in frost when the sunlight hits it. At first it appears to be a common Moth Orchid, but upon closer inspection it looks like a teeny carving of the Catholic Madonna has been placed inside. Something you may not know about the Virgin Orchid is that it makes an excellent home for ants! That’s right, the bulbous bottom of the plant, and the pseudo bulbous area below new stem growth are actually hollow and filled with tunnels and caverns, making perfect natural homes for ants. Don’t worry, the ants won’t harm your plant.

#22. Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera)

Photo courtesy of Robert Shell (cc)

We warned you that there would be quite a few orchids on this list of the world’s weirdest flowers, and here’s one more. The Fly Orchid is a relatively widespread type of European orchid that grows to be between 11 and 15 inches tall with —you guessed it!— flowers that look like little flies, with big, black, bug eyes and all. But that’s not where this orchid gets its name from. The Fly Orchid is named such because it was discovered that it attracts flies and aphids. In fact, its tuber can be dried and turned into Salep which is said to be very nutritious, however we take no responsibility for any ill effects caused by eating your orchids!.How does it attract flies and insects so well you ask? By secreting pheromones!

#23. Protea Pinwheel (Leucospermum catherinae)

Photo courtesy of Jen R (cc)

This fun flower looks more like a carnival toy than a creation of nature. Also known as the Catherine-wheel Pincushion, this is the most exquisite of the “firework pincushion” flowers. Not many flowers can compare to a bed of blooming Protea Pinwheels. The coolest fact about this flower is that it’s interconnected with fire. In the wild, Protea Pinwheels are perfectly suited to adapt to harsh climates. The best time for Protea Pinwheels to bloom is after a fire, when the adult plants, rodents, and other insects that would impede their growth have been destroyed. Protea Pinwheels insure their continued existence by producing little fruit that is collected and eaten by ants. The ants do not eat the seeds, which remain dormant underground until there is a fire at which time the seeds are cued to begin germination.

#24. Voodoo lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)

Photo courtesy of Jacki-Dee (cc)

Native to Europe and the Balkans, the Voodoo Lily is indeed an evil looking plant. The part that gets the most attention is its deep purple “flower”. This “flower” is not an actual flower, but a spathe, like on the Calla Lily. The purple flower only lasts about three to four days and reveals a dark seed cob after it withers and falls off. Despite its tropical appearance, the Voodoo Lily is quite hard and can survive in most climates. The most interesting fact about this foreboding plant? It can give off quite a stink, some have even likened it to the smell of a dead opossum.

#25. Lithops Weberi (Lithops comptonii)

Photo courtesy of Harry Harms (cc)

You may have heard of a pet stone before, but a flowering stone? Nope, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, it’s Lithops Weberi, otherwise known as Living Stones. These awesome little succulents are perfect to grow indoors, especially for folks whose thumbs are not so green. These little wonders are native only to South Africa, where their evolutionary progress turned them into a drought-proof plant. When Lithops bloom it looks extraordinary, with a white or yellow daisy poking out from what appears to be solid stone. Talk about easy to propagate! If you want to multiply your Living Stones simply take a leaf off of one, stick it into the pebble bed and it will take root. That’s it.

#26. Brazilian Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia gigantea)

Photo courtesy of Bobistraveling (cc)

This Brazilian native vaguely resembles the Sherlock-style pipe that was popular in Holland, despite being located halfway around the globe. Also known as the Giant Pelican Plant, the flower gives off a foul odor despite its spectacular appearance. But that’s not the only thing that makes the Giant Dutchman’s Pipe less than appealing. The plant is classified as a danger to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, which confuses the Dutchman’s Pipe with its native host plant. The Dutchman’s Pipe, though similar to the host plant in appearance, does not support the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies’ eggs and will only kill the caterpillars.

#27. Star Flower (Stapelia grandiflora)

Photo courtesy of Ezequiel Coelho (cc)

Perhaps more appropriately called the starfish flower, the Star Flower is another carrion plant (a plant that mimics the smell of dead flesh). Sought by plant collectors and gardeners because of its unique, striking appearance and large fuzzy flowers, this is a plant that is best kept outside. The color of this plant’s flowers can range from deep reds and purples to lighter pinks, mauves, and yellow. Its touchable, hairy, leathery flower may draw you in but it’s disgusting scent will send you running for the hills. Why? Because the Star Flower’s pollinator of choice is the fly, and what better to lure flies than the sweet, sweet smell of rotting meat!

#28. Hammer Orchid (Drakaea glyptodon)

Photo courtesy of Biodivinf (cc)

Next up comes a rather unique orchid native to Western Australia, the Hammer Orchid, also nicknames the King-in-His-Carriage. This teeny little flower is easy to miss, but if you’re lucky enough to find it you’ll likely never forget it. The design of the Hammer Orchid (named for its ability to reset itself) is intended on luring wasps for pollination. In fact, the flower secretes a pheremone that mimics that of the female wasp, which lures unsuspecting males to land on its dark purple labellum. Once the wasp lands, the labellum moves back towards the pocket of pollen, shoving the wasp into the pollen and successfully propagating its species.

#29. Tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes)

Photo courtesy of K (cc)

Tropical pitcher plants, also called Monkey Cups by those familiar with the species, can be found in many places throughout the world from Madagascar to Australia, but they’re most common in the jungles of Indonesia. These fanciful flowers look like you can walk up and take a drink right from them, but that’s the last thing you’ll want to do. In fact, the tropical Pitcher Plants are carnivorous climbers, luring in unsuspecting insects with sweet nectar that are then trapped in the goblet-like cup and unable to escape. Tropical Pitcher Plants have been amazing people since the 1800s, but not many realize that the Pitcher Plant isn’t a flower at all—the pitchers are modified leaves!

#30.Flame lily (Gloriosa superba)

Photo courtesy of Dinesh Valke (cc)

One of nature’s true exquisite beauties is the Flame Lily, or Glory Lily as it is known in Hindi. This perennial plant is both a climber and scrambler and adds intrigue wherever it grows. The Flame Lily thrives in many parts of the world and is widely propagated as a prized ornamental addition to flower gardens. Like nearly all lilies, the Flame Lily is considered poisonous to humans and animals (especially cats!), so if you insist on growing it make sure to take proper precautions. A fun fact about the Flame Lily is that it’s actually considered a weed that thrives naturally in sandy coastal conditions. That’s one weed we wouldn’t mind having in our backyard.

#31.Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia)

Photo courtesy of Luciano Joaquim (cc)

The Birds of Paradise flower is one of the most popular and widely-recognized tropical flower in the world. It’s aptly named for its resemblance to a Bird of Paradise taking flight. The Bird of Paradise can be cultivated outdoors in tropical, warm climates, as well as indoors for those residing in colder temperatures. Despite it’s complex beauty, the Bird of Paradise flower is actually quite easy to grow and care for, requiring little maintenance other than light, warmth, and water when needed. No tropical bouquet of flowers can be considered complete without this highly-recognized tropical staple. Here’s a fun fact about the Bird of Paradise you may not know: it’s actually related to the banana!

#32.Beehive Ginger (Zingiber spectabile)

Photo courtesy of Kristi (cc)

When we said we’d be showing you 40 of the world’s weirdest flowers we weren’t at all kidding. The Beehive Ginger could very well be considered one of the top 5 weirdest flowers in the world. Beehive Gingers may look like they belong to the pine cone family but they are actually related to the ginger plant. Their little “cups” or “honeycombs” (actually called bracts) will collect water and give off the fragrance of ginger. These flowers can be cultivated indoors but require lots of room and a large pot— some growing to the height of 6 feet. The flowers are tiny and white, sometimes resembling little honeybees, and they appear between the brachts. The bracts themselves turn from lovely yellow and golden colours to red. Beehive Ginger as a cut flower is highly prized because the bracts and flowers last for a very long time after being cut.

#33.Snake Gourd Flower (Trichosanthes cucumerina)

Photo courtesy of Ashim Chaudhuri (cc)

The beautiful Snake Gourd flower may look like it belongs on a festively wrapped present, but it’s actually a vegetable! The Snake Gourd originated as a wild vegetable that grew in India, but these days it is cultivated around the world. It’s a member of the pumpkin family (like all gourds) and shares similarities with the bitter melon plant, as the long vegetables it produces taste quite sour and bitter. Despite its terrible taste, the fruit from the Snake Gourd flower is used in a variety of different medical applications, and the reddish fruit inside an overly-ripe gourd can also be used as a tomato substitute when cooking. It may be named the Snake Gourd, but we think it looks more like a spider.

#34.Spider Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Photo courtesy of Dorota (cc)

Despite its strange appearance—or perhaps because of— the Spider Chrysanthemum is a favorite flower of florists and gardeners alike. Like all other mums, the Spider Chrysanthemum is well-suited for patio or container gardening. To keep your Spider Mums blooming for as long as you can, be sure to remove faded blooms and tightly closed buds (instead of the larger flowers) to encourage new flowering. Another trick to having the biggest, best blooms is to keep them out of direct sunlight while they are flowering. This will not only extend total bloom time, it will help the flowers last longer in general.

#35. Pleurothallis truncata

Photo courtesy of Andreas Kay (cc)

This funky flower made our list because it’s so weird it doesn’t even have a nickname! The flowers look like horizontal, orange Lily of the Valley, but they are actually a member of the orchid family. They are part of the Pleurothallis genus to be exact, also called Bonnet Orchids for their tiny blooms’ resemblance to little baby bonnets. They can grow in a variety of different ways, as brush cover, as climbers, clumped and trailing, or as tall cane-like plants. Unlike regular orchids, these orchids prefer cooler temperatures and low moisture; they grow most comfortably at very high altitudes.

#36.Devils Hand (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon)

Photo courtesy of Josh*m (cc)

If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, we’re not really sure what the Devil’s Hands are, but we sure love to look at them! Some call this tree the Monkey’s Hand or Monkey Paw, but we wouldn’t recommend making any wishes on it. The Devil’s Hand is native to Mexico where the Ancient Aztecs held it in especially high religious regard, who harvested the claw-like flowers for generations and generations. The fruit produced by this tree has an earthy taste and has been used for years in traditional medicine to treat heart disease and heart conditions. Unlike some tropical plants the Devil’s Hand tree is extremely hardy and can grow relatively fast, reaching upwards of 40’ to 90’ tall!

#37. Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis)

Photo courtesy of David Eickhoff (cc)

At first glance it looks like this little plant’s got a fungus on its flowers, but that’s actually the way it is supposed to look. Another true one-of-a-kind flower on our list, the Welwitschia Mirabilis is the only member of the Welwitschiaceae family. It could be considered the Methuselah of plants; it’s been around since the Jurassic Era and in some instances can live to a ripe old age of 1,500 years. If you’ve never seen or heard of this plant before don’t be offended, it only grows in one place on Earth: a small strip of land in the Namibia Desert between Angola and Namibia. How can a succulent plant that hasn’t changed in thousands of years continue to survive in one of the driest places in the world? It gets all of its moisture from fog and dew, that’s how.

#38 Lobster Claw (Heliconia rostrata)

Photo courtesy of Pat (cc)

Our list of weird flowers would simply not be complete without the charming, colourful Lobster Claw! Also known as the False Bird of Paradise and Wild Plantain, the Lobster Claw’s cheerful flowers emerge from clumps of leaves that look like bananas. The reddish flower-like bracts actually hide the plant’s true flowers, which require birds with specialized beaks for pollination. An excellent landscape plant, the Lobster Claw can grow up to a height of 3.5’ tall and they bloom several times each year. Be sure to provide your Lobster Claws with plenty of water and fertilizer to maximize your blooms.

#39.Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa)

Photo courtesy of Bill & Mark Bell (cc)

This weird, wonderful flower is quite the evolutionary produce, surviving and thriving in dry, arid climates. The blood-red petals with their bulbous, purplish-black middles make these flowers look more like aliens. Perhaps that’s why the Desert Pea is one of Australia’s best-known and most recognized wildflowers. But just because it happens to be one of the most well-known wildflowers in Australia doesn’t mean you can go around and start picking it; quite the opposite in fact. The Desert Pea is a protected species and it is illegal to collect or pick any without specific written consent from the Australian government.

#40. Silver Vase (Aechmea fasciata)

Photo courtesy of Kew (cc)

Last and certainly not least on our list of the world’s 40 weirdest flowers comes the Silver Vase, or Urn Plant. This prestigious plant is native to Brazil and has garnered the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit for its quality and growability. Even those with without green thumbs should be able to grow the Silver Vase plant. The Silver Vase is a slow grower with broad, waxy leaves and sharp, spiky flower heads. Once the pink flower has finished blooming, the silvery striped leaves will begin to die. However, after the flowering period is over there will be offshoots, called pups, produced towards the base of the plant which you can transplant and propagate

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Scent Can Be a Powerful Memory Trigger

http://psychology.about.com/od/memory/ss/ten-facts-about-memory_8.htm#step-heading

child smelling flower

Have you ever noticed that a particular scent can bring forth a rush of vivid memories? The smell of cookies baking might remind you of spending time at your grandmother’s house when you were a small child. The scent of a particular perfume might remind you of a romantic partner with whom your relationship ended on a sour note.

Why does smell seem to act as such a powerful memory trigger?

First, the olfactory nerve is located very close to the amygdala, the area of the brain that is connected to the experience of emotion as well as emotional memory. In addition, the olfactory nerve is very close to the hippocampus, which is associated with memory as you learned earlier in this article.

The actual ability to smell is highly linked to memory. Research has shown that when areas of the brain connected to memory are damaged, the ability to identify smells is actually impaired. In order to identify a scent, you must remember when you have smelled it before and then connect it to visual information that occurred at the same time. According to some research, studying information in the presence of an odor actually increases the vividness and intensity of that remembered information when you smell that odor again.

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Your Very Weird, Very Personal Sense of Smell

http://nautil.us/blog/your-very-weird-very-personal-sense-of-smell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re used to the idea that some among us are colorblind, perceiving the world differently because of a quirk in their genetics. And it’s well-known that teenagers and young adults can hear high-pitched sounds that their elders cannot, an ability that’s been exploited by manufacturers of The Mosquito, an anti-loitering device that annoys youth into leaving.

But perhaps because the effects are harder to compare easily, or perhaps because we have such a hard time talking about them, we tend to overlook some rather peculiar differences in our senses of smell. When people get a whiff of a molecule called androstenone, they may say it smells like sandalwood, or vanilla—or they might say it has a sickening, urine-like tang. Or they might think it entirely odorless. There are around a dozen known chemicals that provoke this kind of disagreement, scientists think. Much of the reason this happens, at least with androstenone, is genetic: There are two different flavors (so to speak) of the gene for the receptor that the molecule binds to in the smell sensors in our noses. Depending on what version you have, among some other factors we don’t yet understand, you’ll perceive something pleasant, something nasty, or very little at all.

Pork producers currently castrate male pigs to eliminate androstenone and other chemicals that give their meat a certain urine-y je ne sais quoi.

There’s a large body of research surrounding androstenone. It was one of the six scents on a scratch-and-sniff panel in a 1987 issue of National Geographic that presented the magazine’s Smell Survey, which had readers send in descriptions of what they smelled when they scratched, and a little information about themselves. (That study suggested that 30 percent of humans can’t smell androstenone, a number that has since been revised to two percent as scientists discovered that you can train people to detect it.) One large 2012 study collected reactions from nearly 400 New York residents of terrific diversity and suggested that respondents’ ethnic backgrounds, probably reflecting genetics, correlated with their responses to androstenone. The molecule has been found in human urine and sweat, the meat of uncastrated male pigs, and, curiously, celery. In pigs it functions as a pheromone, getting females in the mood for mating (it’s the active ingredient in a piggy aphrodisiac called BoarMate); in humans its biological role, if any, isn’t yet clear.

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This graph shows how different age, sex, and race described the smell of androstenone.BMC Neuroscience/Leslie Vosshall et al.

In the past few years the chemical, long a biological curiosity, has zoomed to economic importance. Pork producers currently castrate male pigs to avoid the problem of androstenone and other chemicals from giving their meat a certain urine-y je ne sais quoi. But a European Union ban, enacted for animal welfare reasons and due to take effect in 2018, will keep pork producers from continuing the practice. Study after study has attempted to answer a very important (to pork farmers) question: How many people, exactly, will notice or care? That is, what percentage of the pig-eating population has the biological makeup that makes androstenone repugnant?

Unlike color blindness—which, for instance, can get you disqualified from being a fighter pilot—this kind of sensory variation does not tend to get to put on the spot in our culture. But to read these studies is to be reminded that individual human experience is ultimately private. We are all feeling the world through a wall peppered with tiny holes, whose shape and size are defined by complicated interactions of genetics and experience. We’re sensory islands, each unique, and though we may forget it most of the time, it’s with a sense of wonder that we rediscover it in something as mundane as wondering if pork chops have a faint odor of pee about them.

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