Fragrant Plants

Aromatic Herbs: Foliage That Smells Great

Red creeping thyme (image) has a spreading habit. I love the fragrance of its leaves.
Red creeping thyme does bloom, but I grow it more for its spreading habit and the fragrance of its leaves. David Beaulieu

Not all fragrant plants derive their heady aromas from their flowers. Aromatic leaves needn't always take a backseat to "flower power." The entries listed below offer examples of aromatic herbs where olfactory delights can be attributed to aromatic foliage:

Fragrant Plants: Creeping Thyme

Not surprisingly, many herbs fall into the category of vegetation with aromatic leaves. And the present list is dominated by herbs, beginning with thyme.

Although I focus on creeping thyme used as a ground cover in this article, there are also thyme plants with upright forms. Not all thymes are created equal when it comes to smell, so click the link to find out which ones are the superior performers.

Read article: Creeping Thyme

Fragrant Plants: Catnip

Like other members of the mint family, catnip is an aromatic herb. Catnip is famed for the effect that it produces on some of our feline friends. Its fragrance drives them wild, affording their human companions what I like to term "cheap entertainment."

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Fragrant Plants: Sweet Woodruff

Like the creeping thyme introduced above, sweet woodruff functions as a ground cover in landscape design. Its whorled leaves and star-shaped flowers bring cheer to shady areas of the yard. The aromatic foliage intensifies in fragrance when dried, making sweet woodruff herbs a natural for potpourris.

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Fragrant Plants: Lavender

Lavender is virtually synonymous with "fragrance." Perhaps the best known of the aromatic herbs, it is a staple of potpourris. Both lavender's flowers and leaves, especially after drying, have helped it carve out a special place for itself in the aromatic gardening pantheon.

Read article: Lavender

Fragrant Plants: Sage Herb Plants

The aromatic herb, sage has many uses, one being culinary. For example, sage is commonly used to flavor stuffing. Sage is an "acquired aroma"; but if you enjoy cooking (doing it or eating it!), you may well enjoy the smell of sage -- by association. The sage with which I deal in this article, Tricolor sage, has the advantage of being highly ornamental, to boot, as its leaves boast three colors.

You may know the term "sagebrush" from the old Westerns. But that shrub is more closely related to 'Silver Mound' artemisia (same genus) than to the "sage" I'm talking about here.

Read article: Tricolor Sage

Yarrow: Aromatic Herb or Perennial Flower?

Yarrow's aromatic foliage bears a fern-like appearance. The texture of the leaves is fine, making yarrow a good plant to juxtapose with coarser-leafed plants to create contrast. Like the other plants listed on this page, yarrow, although often thought of as just another perennial flower, is considered an herb: in fact, its medicinal qualities are the source of its botanical name, as I explain in this article.

Read article: Yarrow

Above, all my examples of plants with aromatic leaves are of a similar height.

But on Page 2 you'll get a better sense of the diversity of plants with aromatic leaves, with examples ranging from giants to ground-huggers....

Page 1 dealt exclusively with one type of plant with aromatic leaves: namely, herbs. The present page gives a better sense of the diversity of the vegetation blessed with aromatic leaves, with examples ranging in size from 80-foot giants to viny plants that hug the ground.

Plants With Aromatic Leaves: Lantana

I hesitate somewhat to include lantana on this list of plants with aromatic leaves. Its foliage exudes a citrusy fragrance, which I, myself find intoxicating.

But not everyone approves of this aroma: I suppose some find it too pungent. At the very least, you'll have to admit that lantana's foliage gives off one of the stronger, cleaner plant scents you'll ever smell.

Read article: Lantana

Plants With Aromatic Leaves: Hemlock

No, not poison hemlock (as in the hemlock that killed Socrates), but rather the evergreen native to North America. Many of the needled evergreens sport aromatic leaves, but what makes hemlock worth mentioning is that it is very popular as a hedge plant. So if you'd like a hedge that not only serves as a privacy screen, but also smells great, click the link below to learn more about hemlock.

Read article: Hemlock

A "Tweener": Bayberry Shrub

Somewhere in between lantana and hemlock, in terms of height, is bayberry shrub (not to be confused with bay laurel). As you would expect with a shrub bearing that kind of name, it's the berries of bayberry that usually come to mind when people think of this plant.

But I'm including it here because its leaves exude a pleasant aroma when rubbed.

Read article: Bayberry Shrubs

Weedy Plants With Aromatic Leaves: Tansy

Even "weeds" can smell good. The last two plants with aromatic leaves that I'll mention are weeds worth knowing about, even though you wouldn't want to plant them.

Tansy is not a desirable herb to grow in the landscape -- especially in North America, where it is an invasive weed. Tansy is also toxic, both to people and to livestock. This weed does, however, enjoy a rich history of medicinal and culinary usage. Like yarrow (see Page 1, tansy has feathery, aromatic leaves. If you happen to see some tansy growing along the roadside, pluck a leaf and take a sniff!

Read article: Tansy

Weedy Plants With Aromatic Leaves: Ground Ivy

Ground ivy goes by a number of other names, too, including "creeping charlie" and "gill-over-the-ground." Another member of that odoriferous mint family, ground ivy used to be an herb held in high regard; nowadays, alas, it is considered an invasive lawn weed in North America. But I'll say one thing for ground ivy: mowing a lawn "invaded" by this weed will be a pleasure for your nose. As your mower blade slices into the ground ivy, its aromatic leaves will release a pleasing fragrance into the air -- blending with that more familiar freshly-mown-lawn smell. So while you may be trying to remove ground ivy from your lawn, remember to enjoy its aromatic leaves while it's still around!

Read article: Ground Ivy