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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

LAELIA ANCEPS: A LESSON ON DISSECTING ORCHID SCENTS


On this gorgeous, sunny fall day, Laelia anceps is in full bloom, with three perfect flowers on a stalk that’s almost 3 feet (1 meter) long. The flowers are large, causing the stalk to arch over gracefully and sway in the slightest breeze. I prefer not to stake my orchid flower spikes because I like to see how they would grow naturally and how they would move to attract pollinators. This year the petals have a bit of a dark magenta splash on them, and are quite beautiful. The whole flower sparkles in the sun with tiny, shimmering points of light. If I were an insect, I would be strongly attracted to the flowers just based on their appearance, which is as nice as that of any hybrid.

My first impulse as an orchid grower is to pollinate the flowers, but I have an orchid show coming up next weekend in Seaside, Oregon, and hope that the flowers will last long enough to make it there and back before doing anything to them. 

Since reading up on orchid fragrance analyses for the making of the “Orchid 17” accord for Sonnet XVII, I’ve started to recognize individual aroma chemical molecules in the fragrances of the orchids that bloom in my greenhouse. What I smell strongly in Laelia anceps is gamma-decalactone. This molecule is a component of many fruit and flower fragrances including gardenia, peach, apricot, and osmanthus as well as fermented products like beer. It’s also used as part of the pheromone communication systems of certain insects. For example, male scarab beetles emit it to attract females – the legendary “chick magnet” fragrance, if you’re a scarab beetle.

In most of the fruits and flowers that contain gamma-decalactone, it’s buried in among many other things, simply rounding, flattening, and mattifying, the scent, but in Laelia anceps, it’s up front and center stage. It’s described by The Good Scents Company as “fresh, oily, waxy, peach, coconut, buttery, sweet”, but that really isn’t how it smells to me. TGSC’s description is more a list of odors that might contain the molecule rather than the odor of the molecule itself. To me, it’s flat or slightly concave, matte, neutral colored, and almost sour, sort of like the smell of a sour dishrag - a sweetish, slightly fermented scent. Laelia anceps surrounds its overdose of gamma-decalactone with just enough bright, fresh floral notes to push it barely over the edge into pleasant territory. I’m sure the insects would love it if I put it outside for them. 

5 comments:

  1. Gamma-decalactone always smells like "hyper-coconut" to me, how interesting how it exists in the world-thank you for the cool info. And what a blessing of blossoms you have right now!

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    1. Marla, the blossoms are really beautiful right now. The red cattleya is just opening up with 8 flowers, so dark red they're almost black. It usually blooms later in the fall, but this year it was in a big hurry! I'm looking forward to enjoying tis fragrance.

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  2. I love the way your broke down the components and described this laelia scent. You've got it! The sweetish, slightly fermented IS made more presentable by the fresh, floral notes...kind of like a student of mine who comes to her lesson directly from cross country. On the way to the lesson she probably spays herself with some floral scent or other, but the sweaty perspiration is still there floating around the pianos and that's OK! I wonder what secret scents lurk beneath my parrot Gomez' honey and powdery top notes? Sometimes I can smell wet gym socks! Gail

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    1. Gail, that's a funny description of your student! I think a lot of floral scents probably smell better if mixed with some sweat. When I met Gomez, he smelled really good, with no sweaty gym socks. Maybe he was pouring on the nice scent for me!

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