Monell at the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show

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It has been almost five months since Monell’s extraordinary nine days at the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show with our Université Côte d’Azur (UCA) collaborators – the culmination of a two-year-old desire to collaborate.

When they say it takes a village to staff an exhibit at the world’s largest and longest-running flower show, the cliché is not an exaggeration. The 2020 Show – Riviera Holiday, which was perfect for our partnership with the French University UCA – drew over 200,000 visitors from near and far. We interacted with about 10,000 people over nine days at our joint exhibit, sponsored by Young Living, Berje, and Bedoukian Research. More than 50 staff, scientists, and volunteers helped visitors sniff individual odors that make up the scent of lavender in everyday products. Check out this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that highlighted our display.

Monell researcher Pamela Dalton explained on the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) blog that it is the combination of activation across 400 odor receptors in the human nose that determines whether we are smelling rose or lily, for example. Some scents, like lavender, are closely linked to memories. “When we inhale certain fragrances, images, emotions, and even physical reactions often appear instinctively,” she said. To that end, we also conducted an informal sticker survey on the back of our 8’ by 10’ backdrop asking visitors to “vote” on how the scent of lavender made then feel. (“Relaxed” was the clear “winner,” even though our stickers kept falling off the banner!)

In addition to our great public engagement, we met with many others: Monell donors and friends during an invite-only, behind-the-scenes event and tour of the Flower Show; Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and other civic leaders; and exhibitors from the Provence region, as well as perfumers and other industry sponsors.

UCA colleagues Mathilde LeCourt and Claire Dikidjian travelled to the United States to participate with us during the Show. At the Show’s Garden Chat center, LeCourt, a UCA doctoral candidate, presented on the chemistry of lavender scent and Monell Vice President Nancy Rawson shared how each person has their own unique “odor print.”

For those who couldn’t attend (or for those who want to reminisce), below are some photos from the event.

Before the show: from the sneak-preview press event (left), to preparing our scent bottles with compounds found in lavender (middle), to setting up our exhibit in late February (right).

During the show: Sniff this (left) and then take our smell sticker survey: How does lavender make you feel? (middle) Relaxed was the clear “winner,” over the 10 days of the Flower Show (right).

Dr. Joel Mainland with our wonderful collaborators at the Université Côte d’Azur (left: Joel Mainland, Claire Dikidjian, and Mathilde LeCourt). And many thanks to our industry partners Bedoukian Research, Berje, and Young Living, who sponsored our exhibit (right).

Of course, we could not have pulled this off without our legions of staff, faculty, family, and friends who helped bring the science of smell to the Flower Show visitors.

During the show, our UCA colleague Mathilde LeCourt (left) and Monell VP Nancy Rawson (right) spoke at the Garden Hub about fragrances and how the brain senses odors.

The Flower Show ended on March 9th. It’s hard to believe that just four days later, most Monellians began working from home as part of the effort to battle COVID-19. We went from sharing the science behind the scent of lavender to telling the world about the importance of sudden loss of smell and taste related to COVID-19. Hopefully we will be able to share our science in person again soon.

Thanks again to our sponsors for this event:

Bedoukian Research, Berje, and Young Living