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.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Every so often there’s a discussion on a perfume forum or garden forum about whether or not certain flowers have a fragrance. The question is often asked about orchids, since most of the orchids sold in supermarkets are Phalaenopsis hybrids that have been bred for fast growth, large flower size, symmetrical shape, and bright color. The breeders of these orchid equivalents of the white leghorn chicken (a flightless living factory for breast meat and eggs) seem to forget that one of the reasons people love flowers is because of their fragrance. As I point out here from time to time, many orchids do, in fact, have strong fragrances to attract pollinators, just as jungle fowl, the ancestors of domestic chickens, can actually fly to get around and escape predators.

A while back, I read a discussion about whether daffodils, narcissus or marigolds have a fragrance. In fact, each type of flowers has a very characteristic fragrance, often quite strong, and absolutes are extracted from all of them for use in perfumery. However, if you go in a florist shop, the chances of finding a fragrant flower are practically zero.

As Valentine’s Day rolls around, I have visions of hordes of women (and some men) being given bouquets of flowers, automatically sniffing them, and consciously or subconsciously being disappointed to find that they have no odor except, perhaps, a faint residue of fertilizer of pesticide that was applied in the faraway country where they were grown, or a stale refrigerator smell.

Prime offenders are roses, daffodils, narcissus, cyclamens, and now lilies, which were one of the last scented hold-outs. It used to be a treat to smell the lilies in supermarket floral displays, but I've noticed that more and more have been de-scented, and even deprived of their pollen. It seems the commercial flower growers' mottos are "flowers should be seen and not smelled”, and “Flowers should not appear to engage in any activities related to sexual reproduction.”

So if you want to give your sweetie fragrant flowers for Valentine’s day, what are your options? Frankly, I don’t know. Maybe a farmer’s market that sells home-grown flowers, or a nursery that sells blooming plants that actually do have a fragrance. Gardenia and jasmine come to mind, as do winter daphne and other winter-blooming shrubs. Even hardy cyclamens have a fragrance. If you are lucky enough to have an orchid nursery nearby, a winter-blooming cattleya with its exotic fragrance would blow anyone away. Think beyond the dozen tired, plastic-looking red roses on artificial life support in the refrigerator case. How could you go wrong with a fragrant living plant and a box of good chocolates or a bottle of good perfume? Come to think of it, a deluxe sample set of perfumes from Olympic Orchids might make an interesting and unusual Valentine’s gift, too!


  1. Over the last couple of years I've put some work into finding flowers with significant scent that I can grow in Rochester, NY. The only lily I could find was labeled Japonica. It's fairly indolic. It's surviving but not flourishing. Most honeysuckle have also been 'altered' but I found one called 'gold fire' or 'golden flame' that smells like the vines I remember from childhood. And it's spreading. I planted crocus last fall that were recommended by the nursery where I found my honeysuckle. I'll find out about them in another month or so.

    Can you recommend names (common or Latin, whatever might appear on the label at the nursery) of scented breeds of daffodils, narcissus, cyclamens, and marigolds?



  2. Ed, I don't know much about daffodils since I can't grow them here for some reason (I think the squirrels dig them all up and eat them, along with most of the tulips). As far as I know all marigolds have a scent, since they're not used for florist's cut flowers. I've found that any hardy cyclamen species will have a fragrance. I don't know if they're "hardy" enough to grow in Rochester, though, but I suppose you could grow them indoors.

  3. Yesterday I received a lovely surprise from one of my old students, a bouquet much like the pink roses pictured above, but with a twist! The roses I received actually smell like real roses. As they open they smell even better and stronger, so I don't think a rose fragrance was sprayed on or otherwise applied. Gail

  4. I am dreaming one day I will find a jasmine plant that can survive the NY winters. And of course it is fragrant.
    Keep dreaming ...;)

    I " heard" a friend of mine has Valentine surprise for me coming from Olympic orchids. It couldn't have been better.


  5. Gail, Your bouquet sounds wonderful!

    Celina, I hope you get your Valentine surprise.