Can Viewing Cherry Blossoms Turn You On?
Birds do it, bees do it - and it's all because of pheromones. These amazing organic molecules are the aroma of amore, attracting creatures to one another like moths to a flame... with similarly hot results.
Plants use pheromones too. Pollinating insects can detect certain scents from miles away. As such, the scent must be strong and the receptors extremely sensitive. Pheromones do affect humans to some degree, via a vestigial structure inside the nose known as the vomeronasal organ.
Thought by some to have no function in human beings, the vomeronasal organ (VNO for short) is used by a number of mammals and reptiles to sample airborne chemicals and, more significantly, pheromones.
Nerves from the VNO lead deep into a part of the brain called the amygdala where a variety of sensory input is processed. A sufficiently powerful pulse of plant pheromones may even affect human beings, giving new meaning to the term "flower power".
It's common knowledge that Japan's popular "Hanami" (literally, "flower viewing") parties beneath the blossom-laden branches of hundreds of blooming Sakura Cherry trees are occasions for revelry, joy and laughter. How much of the frivolity is due to the atmosphere - and how much is due to the pheromones in it?
Naoki Ito, 42, is a local artist in the town of Ina situated in the Japan Alps. Famed for their magnificent, sprawling Sakura Cherry trees, the hills and forests around Ina glow pink every spring. Over 300,000 people from all over the country converge on Ina at Hanami time, and according to Ito, "People enjoying the blossoms feel refreshed."
Coining an amusing phrase, Naoki Ito (courtesy of Google's translator) goes on to say "In fact, people are cheery cherry pheromone." Ito has long shared the Japanese fascination with cherry blossom time and makes the connection to their cloying scent, stating that at Hanami "I feel I have a blast. Cherry blossoms are (an) attractive component of attracting insects and I feel sympathy for the insect to human component, and personally I feel that is so."
With hundreds of trees all blooming at once, millions of flowers waft their seductive scents across the partiers gathered on the ground beneath. Awash in a sea of pink perfume, it may just be that those enjoying Hanami are being influenced by pheromones acting on their vomeronasal organs. Not quite the stuff of romance, but it does make a certain sort of, er, scents. (via MSN Sankei News, main image via n.design)