Nothing captures better the essence of tuberose than its meaning in the language of flowers, used in Victorian England. Tuberose signified both dangerous pleasure and voluptuousness. The scent of the flower is a fusion of white petals and warm skin, an arresting sensual and heady fragrance. On a blotter, tuberose absolute opens up with a faint green note before warming into a sweet jasmine-like scent underscored by a rubbery accord. It vacillates between the coconut sweetness and the warm skin impression, as it dries down.
Tuberose (Polianthes tuberose) is plant belonging to the lily family (Amaryllidaceae) native to Central America. Like most night blooming flowers, tuberose is pollinated by nocturnal moths, which explains the white shade of the flowers. Like jasmine, tuberose continues to produce its scent even after the flower is picked, thus, lending itself as a perfect candidate to the traditional painstaking enfleurage method. Steam distillation with its high temperature is not a feasible way to extract the absolute. While enfleurage is a traditional method traced back to Ancient Egypt, solvent extraction using hexane is far more common. Either method is time consuming, requiring 3600 pounds of blossoms to produce 1 pound of the absolute, which is why tuberose oil is among the most expensive in perfumery, more than $2,000 per pound (as of 2005.)
Aztecs called tuberose omixochitl (bone-flower), referring to its waxy and radiant white blossoms. The tuberose tubers native to Central America were first exported to Philippines and then to the East Indies. In 1594, Simon de Tovar, a Seville physician, managed to obtain the plant, which then made its way to France and Italy (Morris 1984, 231). Thus was the inception of the cultivation of the famous Grasse tuberose. While some tuberose is still grown in Grasse, the majority of tuberose absolute is produced in Morocco, India, China, the Comores Islands, Hawaii, and South Africa.
Tracing the evolution of the flower and its usage leads one to encounter a variety of lore surrounding its white trumpet like form. In India, tuberose is renowned for its strong aphrodisiac powers, and unmarried girls are warned not to breathe in its perfume after dark. Moreover, tuberose also possesses powerful healing properties and is used for anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory purposes. In Ayurvedic tradition, tuberose is also known to stimulate serenity, creativity and psychic powers.
I have a weakness for florals like jasmine and tuberose, and not surprisingly, nearly all of my favorite florals are laced with a sonorous tuberose note. Unfortunately I have not noticed any increase in my psychic powers since the beginning of my love affair with tuberose. Perhaps, it is a subject for an experiment with my test subject as a control group. In perfumery, tuberose is frequently combined with jasmine and orange blossom, lending further opulent depth to one and dark richness to the other.
Tuberose soliflores: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, Caron Tubéreuse, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Tubéreuse, L’artisan Parfumeur Tubéreuse, Annick Goutal Tubéreuse, Santa Maria Novella Tuberosa.
Perfumes dominated by tuberose: Robert Piquet Fracas, Chanel Gardénia, Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle, Guerlain Mahora, Chloé, Christian Dior Poison, Givenchy Amarige, White Shoulders, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Jardin Blanc, L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons, Parfums de Nicolaï Number One, Les Parfums de Rosine Mea Culpa, Creed Tubereuse Indiana, Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion.
Additional fragrances containing tuberose: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Jean Patou Joy, Balmain Jolie Madame, Hermès Amazone, Lancôme Magie Noire, Caron Nocturnes, Givenchy Organza, Rochas Poupee, Lanvin Arpège.