Stop to smell the trees

Tree Canada

Living in Ottawa for the past 10 years, I’ve come to cherish the fleeting moments of warmth and sunlight this city has to offer. I like to take advantage of these moments, as my colleagues and friends can attest, by smelling each and every flower during the spring and summer months. Just yesterday, I nearly missed my bus as I stopped to smell the heady pink blooms of a sprawling Rosa rugosa on the corner of Booth and Albert. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, and for me wild roses have always reminded me of red jellybeans melting in my hands on a hot summer’s day. I’ve always loved the natural perfumes of the garden and their ability to evoke memories, and especially the often-overlooked fragrances of trees.

While exploring our beautiful Capital, be on the lookout for these five flowering trees with heavenly scents!

  1. Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

This native tree is quite common across all of Canada. In mid-spring elongated clusters of white flowers fill the air with an intoxicating aroma. A popular food source for birds, the fruit of the chokecherry, although edible, contain toxic pits. Purple-leaved cultivars have become quite popular in garden centers for ornamental use.

  1. Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Part of the pea family, black locusts have compound leaves with smooth oval leaflets. Their white clusters of flowers appear in spring and have a delicate sweet fragrance. You can smell these beauties for yourself along Echo Drive just steps from the canal.

  1. Cucumber Tree (Magnolia acuminata)

This magnificent tree is the only species of magnolia native to Canada and is identified as an endangered species by the Government of Ontario. With few specimens left in Canada, it is most likely found in the Niagara region and Norfolk County. We’re lucky in Ottawa to have a cucumber tree planted near the William Saunders Building at the Experimental Farm. The flowers bloom in early to mid spring and can be difficult to see and smell due to the height of the tree and their greenish-yellow colour.

  1. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)

Often referred to as a shrub, the fragrant sumac makes a stunning architectural addition to any landscape. Although a relative to poison ivy, this variety of sumac is not poisonous at all. Try rubbing the leaves or twigs gently to release their fragrant aroma.

  1. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)

This species of tree originates in Eastern Asia and has heart-shaped leaves similar to a Redbud. The colour of the leaves changes almost continuously over the course of the growing season. They begin as red/purple in spring, change to green/blue in summer, and finally to gold/orange in the fall. The fall is the best time of the year to enjoy the smell of a Katsura tree. When the leaves begin to fall and dampen on the ground, they release a smell similar to cotton candy, although some describe it as cinnamon. You can experience this sensation by visiting the Katsura found on the south side of the magnolia collection at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm Arboretum.


Missouri Botanical Garden,

“Cucumber Tree – Magnolia Acuminata.” Cucumber Tree – Magnolia Acuminata | The Arboretum,

Hinchcliff, Richard, and R. V. Popadiouk. For the Love of Trees: a Guide to the Trees of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm Arboretum. General Store Pub. House, 2007.

Sternberg, Guy, and Guy Sternberg. Landscaping with Native Trees: the Northeast, Midwest & Southeast Edition. Chapters Pub., 1995.


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