14 Stinky Plants

Meet a group of pretty plants that add strange—and even repulsive—odors to the garden.
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Photo By: Photo by Perennial Resource

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Photo By: Photo by Perennial Resource

Photo By: Photo by Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Colorblends

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

Photo By: Photo by Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Photo by Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Shasta Daisy

Old-fashioned daisies are a must-have plant in cottage gardens and make a great addition to bouquets, at least as far as looks go. Not all, but some daisies bring a stink to the garden and bouquets that resembles either cat urine, toe jam or cow manure, depending on whose nose is sniffing. This makes sense, since flies visit the blossoms to help with pollination. Not all varieties are malodorous. Buy daisies in flower so you can test drive the scent.


Heat and drought tolerant, lantana provides steady summer long color in areas with even the most sizzling summers. The flowers shift colors as they age and beckon butterflies by the dozens. Sandpapery leaves conceal a somewhat pungent surprise. Brush against or break lantana leaves, and you’ll encounter an odor that’s somewhere between cat urine, gasoline and fermented citrus.

Flowering Pear

Spring brings a burst of color when flowering pears (Pyrus calleryana) break bud. These trees are urban favorites, and the fruit beckons wildlife. While the white blossoms are beautiful, they release a less-than-pleasant fragrance. Some say it smells like cat urine or fish that’s been left at room temperature too long. Chemically, the culprit for the foul smell is butyric acid, a compound found in vomit.

Crown Imperial

A stunning late spring bloomer, crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is famous not only for its unusual look, but also for its unmistakable aroma. The scent typically earns descriptors like foxy, sweaty or sulfurous and permeates every part of this plant. Even the bulbs reek. The culprit behind the stench is a sulfurous terpene, which is likely present to repel hungry critters.

Sea Holly

Sea holly provides the missing blue element in perennial gardens during summer’s brightly tinted flower show. But think twice before adding the prickly steel blue blossoms to bouquets, because the pollinators that flock to these flowers are flies. Globe thistles smell like dog or cat poo. Florists do use these blooms in arrangements—after washing off any pollen that’s present. Apparently that’s the smelly component. Or simply pick flowers before pollen appears. For sure, don’t plant these near a seating area.


This tropical beauty has a host of names, including thorn apple, green dragon, devil’s trumpet and stinkweed. Trumpet shape blooms open at dusk and release a heady perfume. The leaves, on the other hand, emit a strong, offensive odor when jostled or crushed. The smell is similar to rancid peanut butter.

‘Globemaster’ Allium

Another common name—flowering onion—hints at the odor you’ll encounter when you tuck these oversize bulbs into soil. Giant flowers appear in late spring, measuring up to 10 inches across and happily lacking any of that classic onion scent. Leaves do smell of onion, especially if you disturb or crush them. That aroma helps repel leaf-eating critters, including deer and rabbits.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Beauty is truly in the eye—or nose—of the beholder with this bulb bloomer. Paperwhite blossoms exude a pervasive perfume. Some people love it, but roughly a quarter of the population likens it to the smell of manure or urine. The odor is due to indole, a chemical that’s also given off by E. coli. Paperwhites belong to the Tazetta group of narcissus. Tazettas with white cups have the most offensive odor, while yellows smell better.


Also known as spider flower, cleome is a grand dame of the flower garden. Its textural blossoms stand atop graceful stems that bob and weave on the breeze. Whiskered blooms beckon butterflies and hummingbirds. But this beauty releases a skunky aroma when you jostle stems. The older, self-sowing varieties are the most offensive. Newer types, like ‘Senorita Rosalita’ (shown), lack the stink.

Butterfly Flower

Pretty two-tone blue blooms resemble butterflies in flight as they open from summer into fall. The leaves have a strong, offensive smell—tough to describe, but it’s overwhelming and permeating. In cold regions, gardeners often bring this bloomer indoors for winter, but are quickly overpowered by the stench. Clip stems before bringing indoors and overwinter roots only by placing the pot in a cool spot and keeping it barely moist through winter. The botanical name for this is Rotheca myricoides ‘Ugandense’ or also Clerodendrum ugandense.

Mountain Ash

Botanically  known as sorbus, mountain ash brings strong multi-season interest. White flowers in spring fade to eye-catching clusters of orange-red fruit in fall. Leaves turn purplish red in autumn. In addition to boasting fireblight resistance, this tree also releases a repulsive aroma when it blooms. The flowers are pollinated by flies, so it’s no surprise they contain a compound found in rotting bodies.


Widely recognized and celebrated for its critter and insect repelling abilities, marigold is a long-time favorite annual. It owes its repellent reputation to oils known as terpenes, which are found in small sacs on leaves. Brush against a marigold, and the odor can be pungent and strong. In the past, Burpee seed company developed a stink-free marigold, but gardeners rejected it, saying they preferred marigolds that smell like marigolds.

Skunk Cabbage

A native wildflower, skunk cabbage is one of the earliest bloomers to appear in spring, often sending up flowers through frozen ground and snow. The blossoms generate their own heat to melt through frozen coverings. Leaves, when crushed, release a distinctive skunky odor, while the flowers emit a scent between skunk and rotting meat. Flies and carrion beetles pollinate the blooms, drawn by the stink.


Hawthorn is a small tree that’s sure to turn heads when it flowers in spring. Blossoms fade to form red berries that linger into winter. The flowers stink, releasing an odor akin to a rotting corpse. In Medieval England, hawthorns came to be associated with the smell of the plague. The blooms contain trimethylamine, one of the first compounds formed when animal tissue starts to rot.