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Fragrant plant now blooming

For two weeks as I made my way through the woods at Stone Mountain Park, where I speed-walk 35 miles each week, I found myself wondering: at the end of November, what is that wonderful fragrance wafting from the woods?

When the air is cold, there are few blooming, excessively fragrant plants, and most of those are expected.

Daphne was an obvious guess, but not at the end of November.

This flower's fragrance doesn't waft a tiny bit, it wafts expansively across both sides of the street. Its pure delight lasts for more than 100 long, striding steps.

Sherlock Holmes - well, Miss Marple, actually - would have been able to identify the plant more quickly. The fragrance entranced me, blinding me, as I searched for its source.

It's a plant I've known almost 30 years, yet rarely use in landscape designs. A plant I had to Google before telling you this story because it is unwieldy in size, requires too much labor to keep attractive and might be on the invasive plant list.

Those are all good reasons to keep this plant obscure. But the fragrance forced an investigation.

After reconnoitering, it's safe to tell you its name - Elaeagnus pungens. It's also sometimes called thorny elaeagnus or ugly Agnes.

However, its close relative, Elaeagnus umbellata, is on the invasive plant list and must be avoided. This is a perfect example of why we need botanical names.

Sure, ugly Agnes has a lot of negative attributes, but if you have space to let one grow to full, tentacled maturity, you'll be rewarded with seductive fragrance from October through November. The plant's fragrance will caress you knowingly while you're raking, going to the mailbox, getting in your car or bring the outdoors in with a window open on a warm day.

For years I have yearned for a dwarf form of this elaeagnus, for its drought-tolerance, ability to tolerate sun or shade and imperviousness to life's ups and downs.

Imagine a plant with evergreen leaves of deep, olive green on top and showy silver beneath. For aesthetics alone, this plant should be genetically manipulated to produce a cultivar growing 3 feet tall, maximum. Perhaps this potential new plant should be named E. 'Pretty Agnes.'

In addition to attracting people, the flowers on this elaeagnus attract honeybees and other beneficial insects. They're not showy flowers, only about one-quarter inch of an ivory, bell-shaped treasure.

I resisted the temptation to bring a few of the flowers home from Stone Mountain Park, hoping the fragrance fairy would seduce newcomers into discovering elaeagnus or, more, the world of gardening if it's not already in their soul.

Back to the '60s, baby. Flower power.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.