Let me introduce myself: I am an ylang ylang tree (pronounced “ee-lang ee-lang”). My botanical name is Cananga odorata, my species is Annonaceae, but let’s not be formal. I was planted in Karen’s garden in April 2017. I arrived in a 6-inch pot, just a small little sapling about 4 inches tall with a few leaves. It is now July 2018 and I have just produced my first flowers!
Karen sought me out because she so loved the big ylang ylang tree that grows in the garden of her neighbour. Every evening when walking her dogs, the tree was preparing for its peak scent production, which is during the night. The fragrance was so enchanting that Karen decided she wanted that heavenly, exotic fragrance in her own garden. There were high hopes for me when I was placed in position. I was to grow into a beautiful flowering tree with dark green leaves and produce attractive blooms that are light green when they first emerge and turn lime green almost yellow as they mature. I have my work cut out because I’m to bloom throughout the year, there’s no time off for me. As well as flowers I will also produce dark green oval fruits, which turn black when ripe, these are edible and are tart like a juniper.
My family are native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines and we thrive in the heat and humidity of tropical locations – so Barbados suits me just fine. I’m told that we can survive in containers, but I’m going free range, planted in the earth! I’m growing fast, I can grow up to 5 feet each year. Karen is keeping me nicely in shape by trimming off my top knot. Fortunately, I am resistant to pests and diseases, so the pesky snails and slugs aren’t interested in me (I see them eating my fellow plants nearby – scary!!). I’m also not that thirsty, so I don’t mind if we have a dry spell.
Soon I will be providing shade as well as my most esteemed attribute – which is of course the fragrance of my flowers. Before too long, my flowers will be filling Karen’s home and garden with a rich deep aroma that has hints of jasmine, mixed with sweet custard apple and neroli.
Legend has it that perfumier Ernest Bo was asked by Coco Chanel to create the ideal perfume for a woman. In 1921 he gave her some samples to try and she chose the fifth: a combination of sweet essence of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang – Chanel No.5!
So, you see, I am very well connected!
In Madagascar ylang ylang is commonly used to flavor ice cream, it has a soft flavour, honeyed and sweet. Maybe ylang ylang will be the new vanilla? Foodies: please let me know!
Essential oil can be extracted from my flowers by steam distillation. The benefits of the oil are many and it’s extensively used in aromatherapy. It is said to help with stress, anxiety, tension, shock and insomnia. It has balancing and calming properties and imparts joy. The perfume encourages enthusiasm and is anti depressant. Celebrated aromatherapist Valerie Ann Worwood is quoted to say that ylang ylang “softens the hard hearted”.
When inhaled the scent, arouses the adrenal glands, supports the thymus gland, and stimulates the immune system and liver. Used topically it is antiseptic and antifungal. Ylang ylang can help lower raised blood pressure, just a few drops of the essential oil diluted in a carrier oil (e.g. jojoba, almond, or olive oil) can be applied over the heart and chest area. It will produce an amazing feeling of calmness and relaxation as well as reliving muscle spasms, improving circulation and digestive cramps. It’s with good reason that our flowers known to possess the “Queen of Perfumes”!
If that’s not enough, in Indonesia, ylang ylang flowers are spread on the bed of newlywed couples – the scent is reputed to be aphrodisiac. In the Philippines, the flowers, are made into necklaces to adorn religious images and deities.
I am looking forward to my life in Karen’s garden, producing the ‘flower of flowers” for many years to come. I hope she will take more pictures of me and chart my progress. If you’re not lucky enough to have an ylang ylang tree of your own, you should absolutely make sure you have some essential oil – you can get to know me well that way!
Or come and visit me at The Garden Suite, I’d be pleased to make your acquaintance.