Tropical flowers are known for their vibrant colours. Many of them also have an irresistible fragrance.
Here are some good-smelling trees, shrubs, and vines from the tropics and subtropics. Try growing them and add an exotic touch to your garden. And when they are in bloom, your olfactory sensors will thank you!
These plants are low maintenance and easy to grow. However, as with many tropical species, they do need plenty of light, heat, and moisture to thrive.
Ylang ylang is native to the rainforests of tropical Asia. Its droopy, greenish-yellow flowers bloom year-round and exude an exquisite floral scent, hence it is also called the perfume tree or incense tree. The oil extracted from the petals is widely used in the aromatherapy and fragrance industry (particularly the famous Chanel No.5 perfume). In hot and humid climates, ylang ylang may reach 30–40 feet high and make an excellent shade tree in the garden. Young plants propagated from cuttings grow quickly and will bloom within a year or two.
Interestingly, coffee belongs to the gardenia family and can be grown in the garden as an ornamental plant or indoors as an attractive houseplant. It produces masses of brilliant white blossoms with pleasant jasmine-citrus scent. The lingering perfume and sweet nectar attract insects of all kinds! Pollinated flowers will set fruits or “berries” in a few weeks. Each fruit contains two seeds or “beans” which are harvested and processed into coffee. Coffee is usually grown as a commercial crop on farms and plantations. It loves acidic, well-drained soil, and thrives in high humidity.
People either love or hate this plant! The cloying fragrance of the flowers is so intense, especially at night, that it may cause an allergic reaction (sneezing fit) or asthma attack in some people! Night-blooming jasmine is, however, not real jasmine. It belongs to the nightshade family and is related to eggplants and tomatoes! A fast-growing shrub, it can become leggy, regular trimming will keep it in bushier shape. The plant goes into full bloom during the hot summer months, with masses of greenish-white or yellow tubular flowers covering the entire shrub. Their overpowering scent can be smelled hundreds of feet away.
Native to Africa and widely cultivated in tropical Polynesia, this evergreen shrub is slow growing but blooms year-round. The creamy white, sea-star shaped blossoms have a strong musty, spicy fragrance—a mix of vanilla, clove, and cinnamon. The irresistible scent can be smelled during the day and at night. In some Polynesian cultures, the milky sap extracted from the leaves and stems is used as an herbal remedy. Contrary to its name, Samoan gardenia belongs to the milkweed family and is not related to gardenia species. It does well in pots, prefers full sun and can tolerate poor, dry soil.
Passionfruit flowers are exotic looking and possess an equally mesmerizing scent! Most notable is the flower of passionfruit with a pungent floral aroma. Or the spectacular blue-purple passionflower with its hauntingly seductive perfume. These hardy vines are prolific climbers and will become invasive if left undisturbed. Young plants sprout quickly from seeds. They grow well in pots but will need trellis or bamboo poles for support. The flowers attract bees and nocturnal moths for pollination. An added benefit: Passionfruit vine produces edible fruits with a juicy, tangy-sweet flavour.
By Viet Doan