By Ralph E. Mitchell
My first experience with a ylang ylang tree was living next door to one in the West Indies. At night, the heavenly fragrance would slowly drift through the air currents and eventually float into my house. Living next door to the source of that famous perfume was a great experience that led me to have an interest in this tree. Now while I have seen one or two specimens in Charlotte County, as well as some at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens® and the Naples Botanical Garden, the tree is a bit tender in our area and will only do well in warmer coastal spots with the help of identified microclimates. Otherwise, I wanted to write about this botanical wonder more as a curiosity and maybe even find out if we have more in our area than I thought.
The ylang ylang tree is originally from tropical Asia and is a member of our more well-known custard-apple family. Rarely getting over thirty feet tall in south Florida, this evergreen tree is upright and columnar in growth with droopy somewhat brittle branches. The eight-inch long green leaves are alternatively spaced on the branches and have a distinctive wavy margin. The flowers are amazing and emerge lime green and change eventually to a golden-yellow color. Each flower is composed of six, six-inch long petals which are almost leaf-like in appearance. While the ylang ylang can flower on and off all year long, the best fragrance is released at night as this chemical scent attracts nocturnal moths and beetles reported to be this tree’s pollinators. Small fruits develop starting green and then turning purple. The seeds can be used for germination, but it may take three months to sprout.
The ylang ylang likes a full-sun location best, and it should be planted in at least a zone 10a. Hardiness zone 10b would be even better. This cold-intolerance will limit the cultivation of ylang ylang to warm coastal areas. As hardiness zone 10a can have an average low temperature of thirty degrees F., plan carefully and have some protection available for small specimens. There is a variety of dwarf ylang ylang which barely gets six-feet tall. This type can be adapted to container culture, but alas its fragrance is not as intense as the species.
All in all, this nose-worthy member of the plant world is remembered for its intensely beautiful scent used by the perfume industry and sampled by passersby. If you have one in Charlotte County, please let me know. If you are in too cold an area to plant your own, simply visit a ylang ylang tree at your nearest botanical garden! For more information on all types of fragrant plants, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times –https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mahr, S. (2008) Ylang-ylang, Cananga odorata. University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension System – Master Gardener Program.
Clifford, P. & Kobayashi, K. (2010) Non-invasive Landscape Plants with Fragrant Flowers. UH–CTAHR.
Landre, C. (2019) South-Florida-Plant-Guide.com – Ylang Ylang Tree – Cananga odorata.https://www.south-florida-plant-guide.com/ylang-ylang-tree.html.