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.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Until this year I had never really grown Lithops, those little plants native to South Africa that look like stones. All I’d ever had were the green hybrid kind that are sold in box stores or garden centers, usually bloated from overwatering and in their death throes. Earlier this year, inspired by the blog, My Life Among the Lithops, I stumbled upon a wonderful source for Lithops species, and now have a collection that occupies most of a nursery tray.

Never having had real Lithops before, I was in for several surprises and corrections of misconceptions about them. First, I assumed that they bloomed in spring. I’m not sure why I assumed this, except that some of the plants that I bought this spring had old flowers or seed pods attached to them. A couple of weeks after I got back from Ireland, I noticed that a few plants had little bumps sticking up between the leaves and thought they must be regenerating leaves out of season because the housesitter had watered them when he wasn’t supposed to. I watched in amazement as, day by day the bumps turned into what looked like flower buds.  Then I did the research that I should have done long ago and found out that they bloom in fall. Duh … they were just doing what they’re supposed to do.

The other thing that I read was that the flowers open in the afternoon and close at night, and – sure enough – that’s what they do. It seems like a short window of opportunity for pollination, but I guess that’s the time when the natural pollinators are out and about.

The second big surprise came when I discovered that the flowers are fragrant. Wow! They have a lovely, sweet, powdery smell sort of like yellow mimosa. The fragrance was an unexpected bonus. Once again I’m learning that hybrid plants are not nearly as much fun to grow as species, every one of which is like a unique work of art. As far as I know, the hybrid lithops don’t bloom and, if they did, I suspect the flowers wouldn’t be fragrant. They’re just engineered to grow fast so that they can be divided and divided and divided forever – who cares if they bloom or not? They all look alike and just have to survive overwatering in a dark box store long enough to be sold as a curiosity so that they can go home with someone and die.  

I have two box-store hybrids that have survived for several years. One of those hybrids has 10 growths, so I know it’s big enough to bloom. If they don’t bloom this year, inspired by heavy-duty lithops pheromones wafting from their ancestors, my suspicion about their inability to bloom will be confirmed.

Through all of this education and getting to know the species, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for these remarkable little plants.

[All photos (Lithops aucampiae, Lithops leslei, Lithops swantesii top to bottom) are mine]


  1. Hi Ellen,
    What potting mix do you use for these little guys? ALSO - Happy Birthday tomorrow!!

    1. Gail, I use the same potting mix as for all the other cacti and succulents: about 60% commercial cactus mix 20% coarse sand and 20% pumice. I'm no expert on Lithops, though, so there may be something better.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes and more!

  2. I am so very honored!! And you have solved a mystery about non-blooming, ever-dividing Lithops as well. Of course as they have been hybridized, they have lost their gorgeous, scented blooms. Why didn't I think of that? :-) The infinite diabolical cleverness of mass-production mega-nurseries....

    1. Marla, so you've had the same experience with the non-blooming, ever-dividing Lithops? Were they all box store hybrids?

  3. Yes, all box-store hybrids. The ones that have bloomed have all been from specialty nurseries, no big surprise there! :-)

    1. That is indeed suspicious. Nearly every species has bloomed this fall or shows signs of blooming soon )more than a dozen of them!) but the box-store ones just sit there and look big and bloated and green.