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, December 25, 2011


It’s just a coincidence, but imagine waking up on Christmas morning to find that three of your biggest orchids have burst into bloom overnight, and one of your smallest. Well, that’s what happened in my greenhouse. The red cattleya of perfume fame has been pumping its buds full of juice, dripping sugar, and gearing up to go for a couple of weeks now. Today three of its eight buds are suddenly open, and the others will be open by the end of the day. Last year it had seven flowers, this year it has eight. The plant and flower stalk are almost three feet (1 m) tall.

The other big cattleya that opened its buds last night is Cattleya labiata, a species that I raised from a tiny seedling. This is its first bloom, with just three flowers, but they’re full-sized with lavender petals and a frilly, striped, “landing-strip” lip. I included my hand on the flower stalk to give an idea of the size of these standard cattleya flowers. Neither of the cattleyas has started to produce fragrance yet, but I’m looking forward to enjoying the real red cattleya again and finding out what labiata smells like.

Chysis bractescens opened its buds, too, revealing its fleshy, creamy white flowers with a yellow lip. These flowers are already starting to produce their gourmand bourbon vanilla- with narcissus scent.

The fourth orchid that opened its buds overnight is Sophronitis cernua, a miniature mounted plant that I am displaying in the house hanging on the pot of the Cattleya labiata. It has two clusters of three flowers each, the brilliant red-orange flowers contrasting perfectly with the green leaves. Unfortunately, these flowers have no fragrance.

The solstice is a prime time for some orchids to bloom. Phalaenopsis are mostly winter bloomers. Right now one of my favorite hybrid phals is in bloom, Brother Yew x Carmela’s Spots. I generally don’t like hybrid phals, but this one is a cream color with so many tiny maroon stipples all over that it looks solid maroon color from a distance. Its lip is a deep maroon. The reason why it’s my favorite hybrid is because it’s strongly fragrant, with a rich, citrusy, floral-perfumey scent that it dispenses in large quantities during the day.

Also blooming are Phalaenopsis amabilis,with solid white flowers, Phragmipedium bessae, another orchid with brilliant orange-red flowers, Dendrobium laevifolium, a mini with red-purple flowers, and Dendrobium hercoglossum, a midsize plant with a multitude of lavender-pink flowers. This last one doesn’t really count, since it blooms all the time, but the number of flowers does peak around the solstice.

All in all, it’s a good day for orchids.


  1. HI Ellen,

    When I first started to develop an interest in orchids Cattleya trianae was referred to as the Christmas Orchid and Cattleya mossiae as the Easter Orchid. One of the things I really like about species Catts is their predictability, super seasonal often to the day. I also love the hybrids. At one time I had a Christopher Guebler "Bette's Beau" (I think that one was a BLC cross) that would bloom all year round.

    Regarding your Cattleya labiata: It is so rewarding to see the first bloom
    of a plant grown from a seedling. Kind of like a graduation. Congratulations.


  2. Gail, Those catts certainly are predictable. I've divided some of my plants and the recipients of the divisions will often tell me that the buds on their plant opened on the same day as mine, even though they're on the opposite coast.

    I think one of the things that really got me hooked on orchids was the reward of seeing seedlings grow up and bloom. The Catt labiata is starting to produce its fragrance today (Tuesday) and the flowers are much fuller than they are in the picture. I'll have to provide an update soon.