Ilang Ilang or Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) flowers have an incredibly powerful fragrance, particularly in enclosed spaces. Also known as the â€œPerfume Treeâ€ in English, the tree is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the South Pacific Islands. This somewhat well-known flower (I knew what it was but never really saw a tree until recently) is actually rather famous because its fresh floral and slightly fruity scent is the base ingredient for Coco Chanelâ€™s fragrance Chanel No. 5 which was first introduced back in 1923 and has since sold millions of bottles. The essential oils of the Ilang Ilang are extracted by steaming the flowers and distilling the liquid.
A few days ago near a Batangas market, I spied a lady hunched over a laundry basin filled with hundreds of yellow flowers that turned out to be freshly picked Ilang Ilang. On closer inspection, she was threading the flowers into â€œnecklacesâ€ of about 15 blooms each that she was going to sell for PHP5 each. I asked her where she got the flowers and she just looked up at the sky. Towering above us was a spectacular and clearly ancient Ilang Ilang tree filled with blooms. The treeâ€™s branches tend to droop downwards and clusters of the yellow flowers are located down the length of the branches. Her son just climbs up and extracts the flowers that are â€œripeâ€ which I presume means are close to their peak fragrance.
I purchased several necklaces of the flowers and hung a few from our car mirror (here shown with the vendor in the background, in front of the car) for the short drive back to the house (a pet peeve, those hanging flowers in cars because they can be rather distracting, what more those horses in the back window with bobbing heads!). Within 5 minutes, the car was redolent with an almost cloying scent. I didnâ€™t particularly like it but it was nevertheless impressive. Back home, I removed the blooms from the thread and put them in a glass bowl that I left in an enclosed living room. A few hours later I entered the room and it was as if my mom had just had a tea with 8 friends that were all over spritzed with Chanel No. 5!!! Whoa! One could say overload. Maybe they would be good in the bathroom in small dosesâ€¦