The Scents of Los Angeles

Night-Blooming Jasmine

The two most noticeable floral scents of Los Angeles both become apparent in May or June and last for several months. The more pleasant of the two is night-blooming jasmine, as most Angelenos refer to it. I love taking walks in the spring and encountering a display of jasmine blossoms. The other scent does not smell as good, but is more beautiful. I refer to the jacaranda tree, which originated in Paraguay and Argentina and eventually became a denizen of Southern California. It purple flowers are beautiful, but there is a slight acridness to the smell of the blossoms.

Jacaranda Tree in Santa Monica

Note that, in the above photo, there is a layer of fallen jacaranda blossoms under the tree. If one parks one’s car under a jacaranda, the blossoms seem to stick and, well, stink a bit.

Perhaps my least favorite smell in Los Angeles is not floral. In the fall, when the Santa Ana Winds blow, parts of the city, especially the hills, catch fire. The air is filled with tons of ash that tends to cause asthmatic attacks. Fortunately, I have not experienced that for quite a few years—and my fingers are crossed.

The Fragrance of Spring

Jasminum polyanthum

Jasminum polyanthum

Now that tax season is over, and I am slowly coming back to normal after my broken shoulder ordeal, I am beginning to notice some of the more beautiful aspects of spring in Southern California. For me, spring in L.A. means jacaranda trees in bloom with their purple flowers. But I have written about jacarandas before—and noted that they originated in Argentina or Bolivia.

What I want to talk about today is the variously called white jasmine, pink jasmine, or—to be scientific about it, Jasminum polyanthum. Everywhere I go, there seems to be sturdy jasmine bushes with their aromatic blossoms, which last into the beginning of summer, as do the jacaranda blossoms by the way.

In a 2013 post, I misidentified our jasmine bushes as Star Jasmine, or Trachelospermum jasminoides. The Los Angeles Times set me straight in an article entitled “Jasmine, the Fragrant Harbinger of Spring.”

I love to pinch a few jasmine blossoms off the bush, rub them in my hands, and bring the sweet-smelling mixture to my nose. In my experience, only lilacs have a stronger and sweeter scent. I don’t have to go far: There is a sturdy bush right at the foot of the stairs to my second-floor apartment.

Like the jacaranda, the white jasmine is an invasive plant, but a welcome one. According to Wikipedia, it originated in the area around China and Myanmar.



Southern California in Bloom

Star Jasmine on a Chain Link Fence

Star Jasmine on a Chain Link Fence

The nicest thing about Southern California in the springtime is the proliferation of blossoms. Most prevalent is the Star Jasmine as shown above, scientific name Trachelospermum jasminoides. When I walked into Santa Monica yesterday morning, I saw jasmine bushes everywhere. The flowers emit a delightful scent that hits one in waves as one walks past a plant.

Even more spectacular is the flowering jacaranda tree, Family Bignoniaceae. Beginning in May and lasting through most of the summer, the trees, which seem to be everywhere, are full of purple blossoms. While they have no particular scent, the dropped blossoms do play havoc with the paint jobs of parked cars.

Both plants are “invaders” (albeit welcome ones) from other parts of the globe. (Of course, most of the human inhabitants are invaders, too, in their own right.) The star jasmine hails from Malaya, and the jacaranda from South America. Shown below are jacarandas in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires:


Jacarandas in Buenos Aires

Other than the fact that it marks the end of tax season, these two plants make Southern California a beauty spot every May and June. Now if only the marine layer would go away!