Pungent aromas link plants from the world’s driest regions. This is not the feminine floral essence, but a powerful scent often musky and acrid, carried in the rich oils that are shared by arid zone species. In lands of little rain and hot dry winds such as the Sirocco of northern Africa or the Santa Anas of Los Angeles, oils in the indigenous plants are key to their survival over a long dry season. These oils serve a purpose — to replace moisture lost from foliage and wood. Oil helps to keep cells from collapsing from dehydration, and the potent aromas discourage hungry wildlife that eats anything during drought.

The dry, inhospitable birthplace of our most redolent herbs means they are underestimated as drought-resistant plants. All too often they are coddled in cool, damp gardens where their oils fail to accumulate, leaving these individuals lacking in aroma.

European herb growers all agree that the most potent fragrance comes from drought-stressed plants. This is why the aroma of sagebrush is so powerful during the summers of the dry American West.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley CA 92256.

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