orchid: 2 posts

Vanilla Orchids

Stepping inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory during Kew Gardens’ annual orchid festival is an opulent fragrant experience. While the most popular orchids sold by florists are unscented, there are also many perfumed varieties, with their aromas spanning the full olfactory spectrum from effervescent lemon to dark chocolate.

In my recent FT article, Vanilla Orchids, I describe one of the most famous perfumed orchids, Vanilla planifolia. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since this plant produces one of the world’s most fragrant spices. The flowers have a delicious aroma reminiscent of creamy jasmine and green grape. Although more subtle than the scent of vanilla pods, it has inspired perfumers to create fragrances around vanilla flowers, relying on recent studies of orchids and their aromas.

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Scented Orchids : A Kaleidoscope of Perfume

Andy wrote this article a couple of years ago after his visit to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and I kept looking for a chance to share it with you. Now in the middle of grey winter days, an invitation to contemplate scented orchids seems particularly welcome.

What does an orchid really smell like? In the world of perfumery, the answer is fairly limited—orchid is usually portrayed using a note that is spicy, exotic, and floral like Tom Ford Black Orchid or Jo Malone Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, often accented by woodsy, powdery, or vanillic nuances. In reality, though, orchids possess far too wide a range of scents to be classified using any of these descriptions. Orchids are a particularly diverse class of plants, found on every continent, except Antarctica, growing in rainforests, deserts, and marshes, on mountains, valleys, and plains, and taking root in just about every type of climate imaginable.

Orchids are highly adapted to their environments, which is reflected in the fact that most species of orchids have co-adapted with their pollinators to exhibit flowers that are shaped, colored, and scented to attract a specific species of insect or bird. This explains why an orchid species like Orphrys exaltata, which is pollinated by male bees, carries a sweet scent that mimics female bee pheromones, and why an orchid species like Bulbophyllum graveolens, which is pollinated by carrion flies, smells like rotting meat. Fortunately for human noses, though, most cultivated orchids smell pleasant, with odors that span the range of fruity, floral, and all other notes in between.

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