Something in the Air

It was a year or two ago, in one of the many gardening catalogues that get posted through the door, that I spied a small an unassuming little plant – which comes as bulbs – called, Polyanthes Tuberosa. It had the accolade of being the most fragrant plant, ever. I mainly ignored it and thought it was just hyperbole but it lodged in my mind. Earlier this year, when I spotted these as bulbs (relatively cheap) at a local garden centre, I thought, “what the heck,” and popped them in the trolley, took them home, potted them up and sat them out on the patio to see what they would do.

Throughout the summer they grew small strap-like leaves but other than that, didn’t do much. It was late summer when one finally started to send up a flower spike The weather started to deteriorate as summer moved to autumn and with these plants originating from sunny, dry, exotic Mexico, I bought them inside lest they succumbed to the UK weather. They continued to grow indoors and I awaited the first flowers with baited breath, eager to experience this “world’s most fragrant plant”.

The flowers grew on the stems in pairs, they opened in a succession of pairs and when the very first two opened, the perfume released was absolutely knock-out. It’s the sweetest, most sugary, butterscotch-syrup perfume that I have ever experienced and it hangs in the air and actually feels “heavy” in a way that would make you think it was an actual tangible thing you could grab. It was strong, really strong. That evening, I discovered that it was a nocturnal plant and the strength in the afternoon was only a warm-up to the full-on power in the evening when I could smell it across the downstairs.

Then the next set of flowers began to open and the next set after that.

Polyanthes Tuberosa

This plant is in the dining room and with all flowers open, it’s a real challenge to sit in that room from the sheer strength of the perfume being released. It assails the nostrils and is so sweet, I really wasn’t expecting anything so powerfully scented from just a small set of simple, white unassuming flowers. It’s quite simply incredible and I can well believe its the world’s most fragrant plant.

There are another two flower spikes to come from the other bulbs.

Alas, this perfume power-house of a plant dies after flowering and propagates through its off-sets, but those take time to grow to flowering size. It may be that the UK weather is just too cool and dull and the summer too short to successfully bring these off-sets on to flowering again in a reasonable time. I’m in two minds about continuing with the off-sets as when fully open, the strong fragrance can set off allergies and headaches, it really is that over-powering.

Don’t let that put you off growing this though, for just a few pounds and a little patience, you too can experience the most powerfully fragrant, sweetly scented plant that has ever been discovered, all from the convenience of a gardening catalogue.


  1. I’d like to experience that one, Sunil, but Mr Mac would have to move out. He isn’t allergic, but strong flower smells of anything except carnations (!) he dislikes. Ah well! At least you’ve had the experience, even if you don’t continue on. In later news, our hardstanding is finished, and I am busy planting the empty areas…. pics will follow.


    1. Hello Mrs Mac, we have several strong-smelling plants, but they’re all out in the garden. I like to cut and make bunches of fragrant flowers for the house but nothing I’ve put together has ever come close to being as strong as this Polyanthes.


  2. I love the idea of growing this, but I react to so many flower scents it’s ridiculous. I get a sore throat at every flower show because I cannot see a Hyacinth/rose/lily etc without sticking my nose in it. Even a bunch of daffs in the house will set off a sore throat! Nevertheless, after reading this post I still want to grow Polyanthes tuberosa!


    1. Hello Sarah, it’s a shame you have an allergy-reaction to flower scent, as much as you want to grow this one, I’d advise you stay away as it is so strong, particularly at night, that you’l be very hoarse by morning!


  3. Ah, tuberose, one of my favorites…used for all manner of celebration in India. And one of the most expensive and exotic ingredients used in perfumery.


    1. Hello Preyanka, it is a stunningly fragrant plant. I’m not sure how well it will regrow and reflowed in the colder UK climate. Even if it doesn’t flower again, at least I will have experienced it!


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