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, March 20, 2011


Can you imagine an orchid that smells like freshly cut cedar and oak lumber mixed with caramel? Well, that’s what the flowers of Maxillaria variabilis smell like. It’s a small plant, at least each growth is small, but it quickly spreads all over its growing surface. Mine grows on a big tree fern slab, and has fairly quickly gone from just a tiny cutting to a large clump. The plant itself has flattened, oval-shaped pseudobulbs with a thin leaf or two on top. It’s not particularly attractive when out of bloom, but it can be spectacular when covered with flowers. It’s blooming now, with the flowers arising on short, stubby stalks from the base of the pseudobulbs. I have three varieties, one yellow, one orange, and one so dark red it’s almost black. Regardless of color, they all smell pretty much the same, with wood and caramel notes along with just a hint of toasted coconut. One of these days I may make a perfume based on Maxillaria variabilis, since it’s one of the more unique flower scents out there.

Now imagine an orchid that smells exactly like coconut-scented suntan lotion. That would be Maxillaria tenuifolia, another orchid that’s blooming right now, filling the greenhouse with the fragrance of coconut. The plant isn’t very attractive, with its stacked pseudobulbs topped with leaves like long, fat, dark green pine needles, so it’s unwieldy and prickly when out of bloom. However, it puts on quite a display when it’s covered with its velvety, deep red flowers with white polka-dotted lips. I have two plants that I use for breeding, nicknamed “Bain de Soleil” and “Coppertone”. There would be no point in making a Maxillaria tenuifolia perfume since it’s already been done unintentionally many times over, but it is always fun to smell the coconut orchid in bloom.

I think a lot of people don’t realize what a huge variety of fragrances orchids can have, but these two Maxillarias are perfect illustrations of orchids with strong but unconventional “orchid” scents.


  1. I remember a Coelogyne, it wasn't pandurata, but similar. It smelled like Vick's Vapo Rub! Gail

  2. Ellen! It has been a LONG time, this is Chris Dotson and I randomly found this page stating that you had yellow form, orange and red dark form of maxillaria tenuifolia. I hope you still check this but I will message you on FB as I'd love to see how you are~ I am ultimately however, looking for yellow max. tenuifolia Desperately. I have had one that was being cared for and literally is covered with keiki paste now to see if I can save her. I would love to know about the orange form too though. I was part of the NWOS and moved to Kauai, now I live on Oahu. Thanks!

    1. Hi Chris, I remember you from NWOS, and hate to disappoint you, but I only have the regular old red form of Maxillaria tenuifolia, as far as I know. Of course its possible that some of my outcross seedlings (I think I did 4) got two yellow recessive genes and someone who bought one from me has had it bloom out yellow. Where did you see the info about the different color forms? Now that I look at the post, it's Maxillaria variablis that I have all the different color forms of - not nearly as special!