The Reasons Behind That Pleasant Fresh-Cut Grass Smell Aren't So Pleasant

Mmmm, the smell of freshly cut grass. Like gasoline, cut grass is one of those odd, pungent smells that grows on people, probably because it's linked to warm weather and, hopefully, happy memories of being outside. But it turns out, the cause of the smell isn't nearly as pleasant. The scent is actually a sign of the plant in distress, and it's the side effect of some serious chemical reactions.

When leafy plants are harmed in any way, they release organic compounds called green leaf volatiles (GLVs). Besides emitting a unique "green" odor, GLVs help form new cells to heal wounds faster, prevent bacterial infection and fungal growth (like an antibiotic), and produce compounds to prevent further damage. Other GLVs simply serve as distress signals, suggesting that plants have a rudimentary form of language. On the other hand, humans benefit from these emissions. When you mow your lawn, you're releasing eight helpful oxygenated hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

According to an Australian study, however, certain GLVs could be polluting our air by contributing to photochemical smog in urban areas (a precursor to ozone formation). To learn more about freshly cut grass and other scents, watch the videos below.

If you'd like to learn more about how plants communicate, check out "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries From a Secret World" by Peter Wohllenben. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale. 

What Makes Fresh Cut Grass Smell?

Deep dive into the chemical compounds behind one of your favorite smells.

Written by Curiosity Staff December 2, 2016

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