Last night 50 people enjoyed an exquisite evening of perfumes, poems and plants (and a glass of wine) in the Temperate Palmhouse in the company of fragrance expert Alex Musgrave. One of the delightful floral scents we sampled was ylang-ylang an important ingredient in some of the world’s most exclusive and expensive perfumes. It is extracted from the flowers of a tropical Asian tree Cananga odorata.
My first encounter with ylang-ylang occured a few years ago when I was carrying out an ethnobotanical survey of a hectare of rainforest in Sulawesi. We sampled nearly 100 trees and my two local guides were able to provide me with uses for nearly every one. One species had 12 distinct uses! But the most exciting discovery was an ylang-ylang tree covered in flowers and smelling heavenly.
The flowers can be collected with a bamboo pole and the oil that is extracted fetches a high price. It is possible to harvest flowers from intact rainforest but many farmers prefer to grow trees in their gardens making it the perfect agro-forestry species.
Alex was able to confirm ylang-ylang oils reputation as an aphrodisiac and I noticed that the samples on our display were very popular!