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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


According to the UN Environmental Program as cited here, about 150-200 species of vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants go extinct every day. This rate of extinction is unprecedented in history and can be directly attributed to the exploding human population and their reckless activities.

My thoughts on the topic of mass extinctions, including sources of natural perfumery materials, were prompted by a recent discussion of rosewood essential oil on one of the perfumers’ online groups. Rosewood, Aniba roseadora, is a South American tree that has been heavily exploited in Brazil for its aromatic oil, to say nothing of the use of the wood in constructing guitar fretboards and decorative parts, although this may be a different species from the one distilled for oil.

According to Cropwatch, most of the rosewood oil has historically been purchased by local representatives of the big European fragrance manufacturing companies, who have exported more than 100 tons of rosewood oil every year since the 1980s. It’s reported that rosewood oil is a necessary component of Chanel No. 5, among other mass-produced perfumes and commercial perfume bases. Unfortunately, this exploitation of rosewood trees has led to their decline, and ultimately to their threatened extinction.

I am not proud of it, but I am the owner of two different batches of rosewood oil. One was acquired many years ago, before there was a threat to the species, and the second one was acquired before the threat became common knowledge. Even though I love the smell, I do not plan on buying any more rosewood oil, even if it were available and affordable.

Apparently rosewood oil is commonly adulterated with pure linalool, which is one of the major constituents of the oil anyway. I don’t know whether my versions are adulterated, although I suspect the newer one probably is. In any case, neither one smells like linalool, meaning that linalool by itself is not an adequate substitute for rosewood. Rosewood does have the sharp, aromatic, linalool scent as its basis, but it’s much richer and more pleasant, containing woody, citrusy and rosy-floral notes that give it a character all its own.

It’s sad to see so many amazing species exploited to the point of extinction. All I can do as a perfumer is to try to avoid using any natural materials that come from threatened species, or those that appear to be obtained by questionable means. It’s not just IRFA that’s reducing the perfumers’ palette, it’s the excesses committed by unscrupulous suppliers and users of natural materials.

[Photo of guitar with rosewood fretboard and trim from Wikimedia]


  1. Also, back in the 70s, rosewood was used for the high end of 'Danish modern' furniture. It was expensive then. I haven't seen it in the local stores in years. So, price and demand elasticity may have slowed but have not prevented overharvesting.

    Can you recommend a good rosewood accord - i.e., one made from commercially available chemicals that don't thmselves come from rosewood trees?

  2. Ed, you're absolutely right that in addition to everything else there's the furniture trade. My husband came home the other night from a musician colleague's house and mentioned that they had a rosewood table. I cringed. From what I've read, it seems that there are a few species of tree that are called "rosewood", but all of them have been practically driven to extinction.

    I don't know of any commercially available rosewood accord, but given that I have the real thing as a reference, it's on my list of things to make.