I love growing paperwhites. Paperwhites are a type of daffodil that does not need a chilling period. You can easily find the small bulbs at the garden center now. Most likely you are purchasing a white flowering cultivar known as Ziva. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to grow indoors. Just put a few bulbs in a glass with water and pebbles and voila! You have beautiful flowers in about 6 weeks.
What’s the problem? The scent. These are not the “breath of fresh air” one imagines in the winter. Instead, you may be thinking you have a gas leak or worse — rotting meat or old diapers. Like cilantro, the fragrance of paperwhites is a “love it” or “leave it” affair.
The culprit? Indole. The fragrance is caused by a chemical called indole, which also exists in trace amounts in gardenias, jasmine, and tuberose (all of which I do like). In these trace amounts, indole becomes more floral and less offensive. It is not surprising that small amounts of indole are used in perfume, such as Chanel No. 5.
Some paperwhites, like Ziva, have a higher level of indole than others. If you find this fragrance offensive, try growing cultivars with lower levels such as Inball (white flowers), Ariel (white), Nir (white), and Wintersun (white with dark yellow cup). Yellow flowering paperwhites are supposed to be low in indole but the only one I have seen for sale is Grand Soleil d’Or from this list of bulb companies.
Try growing Inball, Ariel, Nir, Wintersun, or Grand Soleil d’Or this year. They may not be available in your local garden center but they are available from specialty bulb companies.
All photos courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.