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Smelled Before They’re Seen

This article was first published on 05 Sep 2012.

Azara microphylla

Azara microphylla


Announcing the arrival of spring is the scent of vanilla wafting on the breeze. Azara microphylla is in full bloom. Small dark green leaves are crowded by tiny yellow flowers which are showy en masse, but could easily be overlooked if they didn’t smell like a confectionery.

Native to Chile and Argentina this evergreen tree has a lax habit with fan-like branches. The flowers are petal-less, the display produced by clusters of golden stamens. Its leaves grow in pairs, one larger than the other, which is characteristic of this genus. There are several Azara throughout the Dunedin Botanic Garden; two in the lower garden are near the main gate at the gardens corner, and next to the central bridge near the café. Follow your nose!

…and Spice

On a much smaller scale in the gentian family is the petite perennial, Sebaea thomasii. There are about 24 species of Sebaea native to the Drakensberg Mountains in Southern Africa. At 3482m this is the home of the country’s only true alpine region. It is in wetter habitats at this range that Sebaea thomasii can be found.

It is debatable as to whether it is the colour or the scent that first attracts you. The open starry flowers consist of five petals which are brazenly yellow. They emit a strong spicy scent which must be almost overpowering in the wild. The aroma of this Sebaea can be detected in the alpine display house below the café in the lower garden.

Robyn Abernethy is the Rock, Water & Alpine Collection Curator at the Dunedin Botanic Garden.