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Capturing fragrance


Quest International has developed non-invasive methods of capturing flower scents. Whether it is in the confines of a glasshouse or in the exotic depths of a Madagascan jungle, the technique is the same.
Enclosing the living flower in a glass vessel, the surrounding air is drawn through a small glass tube packed with a porous polymer that traps the fragrance molecules. The fragrance can then be analysed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The process, part of Quests Biocaptive programme, is called headspace entrapment, and measures both the quantity and composition of scent.
The Biocaptive programme is all about investigating scents from nature. The technology is non-destructive, so that rare botanical samples can be examined and left exactly as found. The portable nature of the Biocaptive technique enables perfumers and scientists to go "perfume prospecting" together. During a recent expedition to the remote Madagascan island of Nosy Hara, the Quest team crawled through dense forest and climbed to the top of parched mountains to find tiny blooms emitting a pungent scent.
Some plants have many small flowers in a complex inflorescence, with each individual flower emitting only a little scent. The overall inflorescence provides an enhanced combined scent output and rewards the pollinator well. Plants that are widely spaced may need greater scent output to attract the insects from longer distances and conserve resources by limiting the time and duration of scent release. Timing of odour release will attract insects either when the pollen is ready for dispersal, or when the stigma is ready to receive pollen.
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