The Smell of Pink Breath of Heaven: Good or Bad?

I have received a few intriguing comments on my previous postings on the lovely shrub, pink breath of heaven, regarding its smell. When I gently rub the needles between my fingers, I smell a pleasant, aromatic, herbal scent. For some of my readers, they beg to differ!

They report that the plant smells like poop – very un-heavenly, to say the least. What can account for this difference?

I do not know the answer but very much welcome explanations (with substantiation if possible) as to why there is this difference in smell experience.

I am assuming that those who complain of the smell of this plant are not located near a sewage system or have a problem of animals visiting their gardens and defecating or urinating around these particular plants while there.

Absent these scenarios, I’ve conjured up a possible explanation: (1) the presence of sulfides, in the soil (and plant food) and/or plant itself, or other such stinky chemical compound,  coupled with (2) a heightened smell and taste sensitivity of the gardener.

This explanation, if true, would be fascinating, evocative of the classic “tasters vs. non-tasters” test to determine who had bitter-taste sensitivity to phenylthiocarbamide (PTC). PTC is the chemical that causes the bitter taste in the brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. PTC also contains sulfur.

For commenters who have reported on the stinkiness of this plant, do you find that you dislike the brassica vegetables because of their bitterness? If so, then this may another instance of the variation in the PTC gene expressing itself. Being able to detect potentially toxic foods (based on their bitterness) is adaptive, so, as a lover of the brassica vegetables, I may be in trouble!

So, for the geneticists, botanists, and other researchers and experts on this topic of the smell of the pink breath of heaven, this is a Call for Expertise:  What is the reason for the difference in smell experience regarding the pink breath of heaven shrub? Please let me know (especially if my PTC explanation holds water!).

Those who would like more information on the genetics research behind PTC “tasters vs. non-tasters” can read more about this topic here: http://www.genetics.org/content/172/4/2015.full

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5 Responses

  1. I had two areas with pink breath of heaven. I had to remove the ones near the walkway due to the “poo” smell. It isn’t the foliage, it is the flowers that are giving off the undesirable odor.

    • Dear Tess, Thank you for your observations! I just popped out to my back yard to smell the flowers first (no detectable foul odor) and then to rub them between my finger (still no foul odor). It does seem possibly to be an individual difference, perhaps with a genetic basis to it. Many thanks for visiting my blog!

  2. I have the sunset gold variety and it becomes absolutely covered in flowers when it blooms in March. The flowers do indeed have a foul odor (so much so that my girlfriend asked me to not plant more of it). When I break off some of the plant, it smells really nice (a pine/herbal scent), but you have to break the plant for that smell. I wonder if the Pink Breath of Heaven is different than the Golden Breath of Heaven. In any case, maybe they should consider renaming it Golden Breath of Donkey?

    • Hi, Alex: Congratulations on your sunset gold variety. So interesting that you report on the foul odor of the flowers from your Golden Breath of Heaven – a much more genteel name than the perhaps Golden Breath of Donkey 🙂 I just returned from my garden. My pink breath of heaven: the flowers do not give off the nice herbal scent. However, the herbal scent is detected in the woody stem when you break it off (like I did minutes ago), but also when I rub the leaves between my fingers. Many thanks for visiting my blog!

  3. Had enough of this shrub. I got the one with white flowers and YES it smells of cat/dog’s poo. I have spent a lot of time looking for solutions..thinking that it was a cat, but the comments above have reveled the truth. Getting rid of it 😦 Thanks to all above. You have saved a cat’s live 🙂

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