A key ingredient in the famed French perfume channel No 5, Ylang Ylang is a warm-climate flowering tree.
The bewitching scented oil we know as ylang ylang (pronounced ee-lang ee-lang) is derived from the very fragrant flowers of a tropical tree. The flowers have long, slender, streamer-like petals and smell like a cross between tropical fruit and jasmine.
The curious flowers change color as they age. The blooms start life colored yellowy green but gradually darken to orange. In the tropics ylang ylang may be in flower all year, but in cooler zones the flowers are more likely seen in autumn.
Ylang ylang is one of the floral scents used to create the famous Chanel No 5 perfume. It was combined with jasmine and rose.
The flowers’ fragrance is intense and is carried by the wind, especially by a balmy, tropical evening breeze. The scent is at its most intense at night and the flowers are pollinated by night-flying insects such as moths.
It’s found throughout the tropics, but the tree is native to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. This is a plant that really needs a warm tropical climate for growth. It doesn’t like temperatures below 15°C (although trees can cope with occasional lower temperatures).
Well grown in a sunny spot, it forms a handsome, round-headed green tree with a straight, grey trunk and slightly drooping branches. Fully grown it reaches 10m or more but it can be grown in a large pot for several years.
There is a compact variety known as dwarf ylang ylang (Cananga odorata var. fruticosa) that grows as a shrub around 2m tall. It’s a better choice for growing longer term in a container or small space.
Ylang Ylang Label
Common name: Ylang ylang, cananga
Botanical name: Cananga odorata
Family: Annonaceae (custard apple family)
Aspect and soil: Full sun to light shade; well-drained soil
Best climate: Subtropical to tropical
Habit: Evergreen tree
Propagation: Seed, cutting, potted plants
A fragrant essential oil is derived from distilling ylang ylang flowers. As well as a perfume ingredient and aromatherapy oil, it’s valued for its antiseptic properties.
The flowers are used as a herbal remedy for malaria and fever. The flowers are also considered to be an aphrodisiac. The leaves have healing properties, too.