smell fan

  • Photo of part of the smell wheel and plant

smell fan

Save this scent! 


Explore the scent of spring with the trillium smell wheel, a Rowan University - Monell Center collaboration engaging audiences about the importance of smell for people, plants and pollinators. This is a continuation of our "smell fan" project involving our students in creatively engaging public audiences about smell as an environmental sense. 

At the 2023 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show's Family Frolic Day (Sunday, March 12th), we invite attendees to spin the trillium smell wheel and win a sniff of one of the 10 aromatic compounds making up the unique scent of trillium blooms, which range from sweet to stinky. Compare this single scent to the full aromatic bouquet of a botanical sample, Trillium sessile, which we have force-bloomed for the Flower Show.

Take a small, wooded trillium ‘boutonnière’ souvenir of this experience as inspiration to get outdoors, sniff, and celebrate spring ephemerals in the Mid-Atlantic region!

smell wheel with descriptions of different smells


  • Native trillium are threatened with extinction due to human development and invasive species (predation and competition). Known as spring ephemerals, trillium are some of the first native wildflowers to emerge and bloom in the spring. Their early blooms are important for feeding early pollinators and supporting biodiversity. 
  • Trillium are distinctive for their unique and complex scents. Unlike many other flowers, trillium blooms span the botanical fragrance spectrum, smelling like cheese, wine, candy and dog food. 
  • Our project is seeking to reframe what many understand to be the traditional “smell of spring.” The traditional notion of the smell of spring consists of scents from plants that are non-native to the eastern United States. We are spreading awareness about the threats to the trillium flower by focusing on the smell of spring truly native to this region (our olfactory heritage!).

small plant in a square planter


Trillium can be found in eastern North America, the Pacific Northwest, and Eastern Asia. There are about 50 trillium species globally. However, the introduction of non-native species has threatened the trillium flower in our region.  


Where to smell trillium in April:

Wheel design

The botanical inks used to create the hand painted smell wheel are made of foraged plant materials that symbolize the state of trillium in the Lenapehoking region. Scent, natural inks, and trillium are ephemeral mediums. The place-based color palette speaks to the trillium story: why they are vanishing and how to support conservation of this iconic spring ephemeral. 

  • Charcoal from the 2022 Wharton Forest Fire in South Jersey represents the changes in urban land use such as urbanization and regenerative forest management (or lack thereof) that threaten trillium habitat.
  • English Ivy and Japanese Honeysuckle collected in Glassboro, NJ represent the threats trillium face from invasive plant competition and predation from the overpopulation of white-tailed deer.
  • Food scraps such as pomegranate skin represent agricultural land use which reduces and can negatively impact trillium habitat.
  • Pokeberry, a native plant, represents the critical role of native plants and ecological landscape practices in regenerating trillium habitat.

Ink Journal describing different smells with different colors signifying smells.


Special thanks to Dr. Robert Raguso at Cornell University for generously sharing his trillium research and enthusiasm with us; to Professors Tom Murray and Elizabeth Shores for  horticultural support and botanical ink making, respectively; to Jim Greenwell and Lisa Toman for their fabrication and logistical support; to Iris Richardson and the Media Lab for digital design assistance; to Linda Walczak for partnering with us on aromatic native landscape design interventions and the Monell team for their ongoing chemosensory expertise and collaboration. 

Wooden pins in the shape of a plant with a QR code and Rowan University logo