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, May 30, 2012


I recently got on a kick of trying South African botanicals, and have just discovered one that I’m definitely going to use in a perfume. Its common names are cape may and white confetti bush, and its scientific name is listed as Coleonema album everywhere I looked. I have no explanation for the grammatical mismatch of a feminine Latin noun with a neuter adjective, but maybe someone who’s up on botanical grammar can enlighten me.

Grammar aside, Cape May is a large shrub with needle-like leaves that is native to coastal regions of South Africa. Pictures of the bush look a lot like a large rosemary plant. When they bloom, they are covered with a proliferation of white flowers that look very much like strawberry blossoms. Apparently it’s a favorite shrub for bonsai and topiary, lending itself to pot culture as well as trimming and shaping. Writing this has made me want one.

But the oil! As soon as I put it on a strip to test, the whole room filled with the most wonderful sweet, fruity sillage. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever smelled. Close up it has a bit of a camphorous, herbal, foody note, but even when my nose is right up next to it, it’s accompanied by the fruity smell, almost like taffy, but better. If I had to characterize the fruit notes, I’d say they’re like a fair amount of fresh blueberry, a little fresh guava, and something else fruity but unique. Of course I immediately got all excited about basing an all-natural perfume on cape may, but my enthusiasm was dampened a little when I discovered that the fruity sillage is a top note that doesn’t last all that long, drying down to an herbal, camphorous base that is also fairly short-lived. In the end, I don’t think I can build a fragrance around cape may, but, it will still be an interesting top-note addition to one of my all-natural fragrances

As usual, I’m offering a sample of this oil to one reader who leaves a comment saying what your favorite fruity perfume notes are. The random drawing will be on Sunday, June 3.

[Plant photos from Wilimedia]


  1. That sounds so interesting! It will make a great top note, I'm sure! I love fig notes and lime especially.

  2. Cape May seems gorgeous. My favourite fruity perfume notes would be rubharb and fig notes..thanks for the draw.

  3. Funny coincidence, you've been trying S African botanicals, and I've been starting to grow S African mesembs! Frithia pulchra is my current favorite and it's about to bloom, no idea if the purple flowers will have an odor. I've got Lapidaria seeds, but am too scared to grow them yet...need more confidence.
    Cape May sounds fascinating. Too bad it is so fleeting, but as you say, it can be a mysteriously alluring, ephemeral top note in something new.

  4. Marla, So many coincidences! I love S African mesembs and similar plants. I'm growing Lithops and Gibbaenum, both of which bloomed last year. I've got some cactus seeds that I need to grow, just haven't gotten around to it. What do the Lapidaria seeds need?

    I've got a bunch of South African resins and oils that I'll be writing about as I evaluate them. You're in the drawing for cape may.

  5. I would be interested in a sample of Cape May. I've been reading more about South African plants these days but have not sampled any oils or grown any South African plants recently. I would have to say that my favorite fruity notes are fig, grapefruit and lime.