What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I’m back from my trip to Memphis, where I thoroughly enjoyed warming up in the tropical, humid heat whenever I got a chance to be outside, and meeting a lot of new and interesting people. The photo shows water lilies (Nelumbo nucifera) growing in big tubs in Memphis, making me think that I could have them in the garden here. These only had seed pods and buds, so I didn't get to smell the flowers. I was welcomed back to Seattle with a shocking blast of cold air, even colder than the air conditioning in the cave-like buildings of Memphis. At least the sun’s out today and has warmed things up.

Speaking of sun, there’s a super-sunny hot spot in the sun porch where even the most heat-loving orchids won’t grow, so I’ve populated it with various succulents, including some cacti. I’ve grown a few cacti at other times in my life, but they never bloomed. This year, however, I’ve had three in bloom, and they’re a delight to see, with big, colorful flowers that are nothing like orchids. The down side is that the buds tend to sulk and only open when they feel like it, usually for only a few hours on sunny mornings, so I feel incredibly lucky if I catch them in the act. Also, none of them have any fragrance as far as I can tell.

I’ve managed to get photos of two of them, but the third one, a Mammillaria  guelzowiana, bloomed while I was in San Francisco. The last of the flowers were open the night I got back, but it was too dark to take a photo, and they were closed forever by the next morning. It’s too bad because the flowers were huge, and a spectacular hot pink.

For the past two weeks there has been an open flower on the Gymnocalyceum rogonesii, white, but still beautiful. It opens every morning and closes at night, so it provides plenty of photo-ops. The flowers are almost bigger than the plant, so the little squatty cactus is hidden under its flower. I was really surprised to see that it was still in bloom and opening in the mornings after I got back from Memphis. It’s finished now, but it had a long run.

There’s a yellow Notocactus mammulosus that has bloomed twice now. The flowers don’t stay open long, but they sure do their job.  Each time they’ve bloomed, they've made seedpods, and I even have babies growing from last year’s seeds.

Seeing these gorgeous, colorful flowers on the cacti can brighten up even the most dark and depressing morning, and enhance a beautiful sunny one like today. Does anyone know which cactus flowers are fragrant? 


  1. I can't answer your question but I would love to smell a fragrance inspired by that yellow flower. I can't imagine how a cactus flower should smell... Maybe light and delicate ?


  2. One of the most fragrant cactus I've known is the NIght Blooming Cereus (Cereus or Peniocereus greggii). At one point in my childhood in Florida a large, rangy night blooming cereus grew outside of my window. I do recall the scent but don't have words to describe it. It was a kind of fresh, watery with a touch of jungle? I'll think about it and see if I can come up with a better description. I also remember a cactus I had in Tehran that grew in the form of many prickly fingers. It had pink blooms and had a pleasant cake like smell (not vanilla, just cake). Gail

  3. Many cacti and mesembs have fragrant flowers, but like you said, you "have to catch them in the act"-it's ephemeral! I'll get a list together, that would make a good article. When I was very young, a perfumer friend from the Middle East made me a beautiful custom perfume he called "Cactus Flowers"- he thought it very funny those were my favorite flowers; in Europe cacti are symbolic of loneliness and sometimes, a grumpy disposition!

  4. Cacti = grumpy disposition? Too funny! I think that fits me perfectly. I guess those who like mesembs should be fond of the round, smooth, good life full of sensual pleasures. That fits, too. Those who like orchids must be easy-going, ascetic, and low-profile in their daily life, but subject to outbursts of brilliance. Fits, too.

    How would you like to do a guest post here on fragrant mesembs and cacti?