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, June 21, 2015

SUMMER SOLSTICE AND AN ORCHID THAT SMELLS LIKE CARNATIONS


Today is the longest day of the year (or shortest if you’re in the southern hemisphere), so it represents a turning point in the seasons. It’s a time for reflection on the spring that just passed and the summer to come. For me, it’s a time to send out the summer Scents of the Seasons to subscribers. Happy solstice to all!

This spring was a whirlwind for me, passing by in what seemed like no time. Summer should be calmer, with July being a month in which I can focus on formulating a couple of new fragrances, upgrading the websites, doing some promotion and some writing.

A botanical treat this month has been Bulbophyllum patens, an orchid that belongs to a genus noted for its stinky flowers that smell like feces and/or rotten meat. This one, on the other hand smells a lot like carnations! It has that same clove scent along with some light fruity-floral notes. The flowers have a mobile lip that jiggles in the breeze, enticing insects to light on it. Apparently in the wild, it is pollinated by fruit flies, males of which are attracted by methyl eugenol, the clove note, raspberry ketone, and zingerone, a ginger-like scent. All of these are perfectly good perfume materials. I discovered that if I press down on the lip as an insect would, the lip catapults upward, presumably throwing the insect against the pollinia. 

I did a little reading and, according to this account, what happens is that flies light on the lip to feed on the chemical attractants that it secretes, and as they progress inward, the lip reaches a see-saw fulcrum point, flipping the fly into the column cavity, with the lip acting as a closed door behind it. Trying to escape, the insect backs up, catching the sticky pollinia on its back. When it visits another flower, the process is repeated, with the pollen being deposited in the appropriate slot. All I can say is that these flowers are amazing, both for their co-evolution with fruit flies, and for the beautiful scent that fills the air around them.

[Summer sunrise at Stonehenge photo from Wikimedia; Bulbophyllum patens photos are mine.]

2 comments:

  1. Truly amazing plants! I wonder if the flies eventually get fed up with being flipped? Maybe they just forget after each time it happens and do it all over again...like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football.

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  2. Marla, fruit flies aren't known for their intellectual capabilities, so I suppose they do just go after deceptive flowers again and again like poor Charlie Brown. Maybe I should name my Bulbophyllum "Lucy"!

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