Why Do Stargazer Lilies Smell Bad?

Stargazer lilies, with their exquisite appearance and vibrant colors, are a popular choice for bouquets and gardens. However, their strong and sometimes unpleasant scent can leave many wondering why these beautiful flowers smell bad. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the distinctive scent of stargazer lilies and shed some light on this intriguing phenomenon.

The Natural Chemistry of Stargazer Lilies

When it comes to understanding why stargazer lilies emit a strong odor, we must delve into the realm of their natural chemistry. These lilies contain various chemical compounds that contribute to their distinct scent. One such compound is called indole, which is responsible for the heavy, musty smell associated with stargazer lilies. Interestingly, indole is also found in some perfumes as it adds a unique depth to their fragrance.

However, indole is not the sole contributor to the reputation of stargazer lilies for having a bad smell. Other compounds, such as phenylacetaldehyde, contribute to the overall aroma as well. Although phenylacetaldehyde itself has a sweet, floral scent, its combination with indole creates the characteristic odor that some people find off-putting.

The Role of Genetics

Genetics play a significant role in determining the scent profile of stargazer lilies. Different varieties and cultivars may possess varying degrees of fragrance intensity and composition. Over the years, breeders have focused on enhancing the appearance of these lilies, but the side effect has been the strengthening of their scent as well. Some cultivated varieties of stargazer lilies have been deliberately bred to have a more potent fragrance, which can explain why some individuals find the smell of these flowers overpowering.

Environmental Factors

Aside from genetics, environmental factors can also influence the scent emitted by stargazer lilies. The temperature, humidity, and light conditions in which these flowers are grown can all impact their scent production. Higher temperatures and increased humidity have been observed to intensify the fragrance of stargazer lilies. Additionally, exposure to bright sunlight can further enhance the production of the compounds responsible for their scent.

Interactions with Other Plants and Insects

Stargazer lilies have evolved their distinctive scent as a means of attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The strong smell acts as a signal to these insects, guiding them towards the flowers for pollination. While some humans may find the scent unpleasant, it is important to remember that it serves a vital purpose in the natural world. The smell of stargazer lilies may not be enjoyed by all, but to pollinators, it signifies a source of nectar and pollen.

Moreover, the scent of stargazer lilies can interact with other plants in their vicinity. Some flowers emit volatile compounds that can act as inhibitors, reducing or masking the fragrance of neighboring plants. This natural competition for pollinators ensures the viability and effectiveness of the fragrance emitted by stargazer lilies.

Can the Smell be Mitigated?

If you find the scent of stargazer lilies to be overpowering or disagreeable, there are a few techniques you can try to mitigate it:

  • Choose lily varieties with milder scents: Some lily cultivars have been selectively bred to have a less intense fragrance. Opting for these varieties can provide a more subtle scent experience.
  • Keep them outside or in well-ventilated areas: Allowing fresh air to circulate around the flowers can help dissipate the scent.
  • Consider using air purifiers or odor absorbers: Placing these devices near the lilies can help reduce the intensity of the scent in confined spaces.


The distinctive smell of stargazer lilies can be attributed to their natural chemistry, genetics, environmental factors, and interactions with other plants and insects. While some may find their scent overpowering or even unpleasant, it is important to appreciate that this fragrance serves a purpose in nature. Whether you adore or dislike the smell, there is no denying the beauty of stargazer lilies and the unique character they bring to floral arrangements and gardens.