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.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Last summer I read that it’s possible to make maple syrup from our local maple species, the big leaf maple, Acer macrophyllum. It’s aptly named, given that the leaves are the largest of any maple species, almost twice as large as my outstretched hand. These trees grow all over the Pacific Northwest, where they are the predominant deciduous species in the lowlands and foothills. They’re often covered with thick green moss. In rainforest areas, they're completely draped with moss, like green veils. 

We have some big leaf maple trees growing on our property, and so does Gail. This spring we both decided to do an experiment and tap the trees to see if we could make syrup. Gail’s more organized than I am, so she’s been collecting sap from her trees since mid-January, which is the right season to do it around here. Due to the lack of the proper size drill bit, we’ve been procrastinating, but yesterday we were finally ready to tap the trees and install the spiles. A spile is a conical metal tube with a small hole on the end that goes in the tree trunk, with a spout to deliver the juice into the bucket, and a hook on which to hang the bucket.

The instructions said to drill a hole 2-2.5 inches deep about 3 feet up the trunk, aiming for the xylem layer, that conducts sap upward from the roots. The spile is then tapped into the tree with a hammer, the bucket is hung, and you wait.

Gail has collected over 20 gallons of sap from her trees, and has started boiling it down, but apparently those trees are slowing down or stopping sap production now. The taps we put in yesterday haven’t produced a single drop so far. The taps are installed in big, husky trees that look like they should be perfectly capable of making gallons of sap. The wood shavings were white and healthy looking, and the spiles can only go in so far, so I don’t think we missed the xylem pipeline. I’m thinking that February is already too late in the season. After all, many of the trees here are in active bud, the crocuses and hyacinths are coming up, and the birds are singing their little heads off. Next year we’ll put the taps in on or around January 1 so that we have a month of collecting. February may be the season for New England maples, but not for ours. Live and learn. 


  1. Ellen,

    One of the trees started producing on the first day. We didn't see anything from the rest of them until 4 or 5 days after we placed the spiles...so don't despair. At first I was worried there would be almost nothing and now I have too much. By the way, I would advise against boiling in the house. My fan and microwave may have died because of the steam (and I only reduced 5 gallons). It would have been cheaper to replace the broken coleman stove because it looks like I am going to have to do that anyway! Live and learn.


  2. Gail, it's good to know that some of your trees didn't produce right away. Maybe ours will put out a little sap before it gets too warm. Our kitchen fan has been broken for years, and we've never replaced it, so I guess we don't have that to worry about. But the microwave - how could the steam break that?? Did you boil it in the microwave?

    In any case it would probably be a lot cheaper and easier to buy ready-made maple syrup, but how much fun is that?

  3. Hi Ellen,

    I boiled on top of the stove, but the microwave is an "above the stove" unit with a fan. The panel became soaked with condensation. Fortunately I was able to dry everything out, clean it up and get it going again, but no more reduction boiling on top of that stove for me (and I still have a lot of boiling to do). If your microwave is not above the stove you should be fine. My kitchen, though relatively large with a good layout, is not really set up for canning, reducing and the other old fashioned homemaking applications that I like to do.

    I agree that it would be cheaper and easier to buy prepared syrup , but it is fun to know how to do these things, even with all the work involved.


  4. You have to wait for a cold snap (like the one we just had). Our bigleafs aren't producing now, but they were two weeks ago when things started warming up again. We collected over 20 gallons of sap from our three mature trees.

  5. Yewberry, I'm afraid we missed the window of opportunity for sap collecting. We didn't install the taps until well after it had warmed up again after the cold snap. Next year we'll know better!