Thread: how smells evolve
in botanical evolution, plants change shape, size, color, smell and purpose. each has its own reasons, as certain colors and scents attract certain species. because of natural selection, for botanists, they can use genetics to trace the evolution of plants to a common ancestor, the way we can in the animal kingdom.
but my question is on the evolution of botanical scents. i know that molecule x will produce scent y, but how can we trace smells back to observe how natural odors adapt to the environment?
i understand that certain colors and sizes will grow based on how successful they are at pollinating and how protected they are from the elements, but how smells are created, and how they evolve is something that interests me.
anyone care to explain?
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Great question. I don't know if it's possible to find out what plants smelled like in the Jurrasic. I don't think we really have the language to compare what we smell to 19th century descriptions of roses or lavender. But in the same way that Darwin described the differences in Finches from one island to another as The Beagle visited them, someone could describe how the scents of realted flowers differ in different environments. Actually, Darwin might have done this. If there's an on-line edition on Voyage of the Beagle, you could search for 'scent,' 'frangrance,' smell,' etc. For more contemporary sources you could look for a biology professor specializing in evolution & ask for references.
On a related note, I heard the author of Sensing the Past interviewed today. His book might show how to find out how the smells of the North and the South differed before and after the US Cival War. Mark Smith is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina. I heard him talk about how the North intentionally cultivated an industrial buzz and sourth consciously cultivated the sound of serenity.