Among the rare plants flowering in the middle of winter in papi Jo’s garden, a white narcissus plays the starring role. It is the narcissus Narcissus Tazetta ‘Paperwhite Ziva’, also called Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’ (Tazetta Daffodil). It is original with its lengthy name, not only that. Indeed, the world of gardeners is divided into two camps about its ‘smell’. All agree that it has a powerful smell. But is this “smell” a perfume or just a more or less unpleasant smell, or even a stench?
On the Dutch bulbs website Bulbi they speak of “all-white flowers that smell deliciously sweet.”. At Bakker, these daffodils “give off a lovely, soft scent and have pure white flowers”. On the Gardenia.com site, “Paperwhites are amazingly fragrant daffodils”. What a lot of praise for such a fragrant flower!
On the other hand, many people hate its smell, and I am one of them. I found a plausible explanation on 2 websites: Paperwhite Narcissus: Sweet or Smelly? and another page with an explicit title: Why Do My Paperwhites Stink? Here’s the most convincing explanation I have found, on the first of those two sites.
The naturally-produced biochemical that gives paperwhite narcissus their distinctive fragrance is called indole. Other plants that also produce indole include gardenias, jasmine, tuberose and orange flowers. Not everyone likes the smell of indole – especially in large amounts. It has a sweetness that can both repel and attract us at the same time. The biochemical compound indole is found throughout the natural world: in fecal matter, decaying animals, body odor and even in vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
That explains why different individuals with a different sense of smell will find the smell of Paperwhites pleasant or foul. As for myself the best way I could describe that smell is something akin to over-heated (or even burning) electronical devices!