Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54. Erg.Lfg. 01/10 1
Cananga odorata (LAM.) HOOK. F. & THOMS., 1855
syn.: Canangium fruticosum CRAIB; Canangium odoratum (LAM.)
BAILL. ex KING; Canangium scortechinii KING;
Unona leptopetala DC.; Unona odorata (LAM.) BLUME;
Uvaria odorata LAM.
Ylang-ylang-Baum, Family: Annonaceae
Bahasa Indonesia: Kernanga
Burmese: Sagasein, kadatngan, kadatnyan
Malay: Bungan sandat (Bali), chenanga,
kananga, kenanga utan
Tagalog: Ilang-ilang, alang-ilang
Thai: Fereng, kradang nga Thai
Fig. 1: Cananga odorata branchlet with flowers, Bot. Garden Singapore. picture: Ulla M. Lang
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2Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54 Erg.Lfg. 01/10
Cananga odorata, widely known as Ylang-ylang, is a fast-
growing, medium-sized tree indigenous to lowland and lo-
wer montane tropical forests of the Indo-Pacific region. It
is cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics in gar-
dens for its exceptionally fragrant flowers, from which are
distilled essential oils used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos
and other cosmetic products, foods, and aromatherapy.
The Comoro Islands and Madagascar are major produ-
cers of ylang-ylang oil, accounting for an estimated 80 %
of global production. In addition to its value as an orna-
mental and source of ylang-ylang oil, it is valued in its
Indo-Pacific range for its medicinal uses, the essential oil
and other parts of the plant being used in traditional sy-
stems of medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
While the center of origin of C. odorata is not precisely
known, the species is generally thought to be indigenous
to the Indo-Malayan region, including southern Myan-
mar (Burma), Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, nort-
hern Australia, and Malesia . It has been introduced
and cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics
usually as an ornamental tree in gardens. It has become
naturalized in southern India and in many island coun-
tries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans from Madagascar
to Sri Lanka and from the Mariana and Caroline Islands
to Fiji and New Caledonia eastwards to French Polyne-
sia, as well as in southern China and Taiwan . It was
also introduced to the Caribbean region, including Cuba,
Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Gua-
deloupe, where it is reported to be naturalized. More
recently, ylang-ylang has been introduced to Central
America and tropical countries of South America .
Many of the introductions in the Pacific and Indian
Ocean regions apparently pre-dated the arrival of Euro-
peans, although further introductions to India (in 1797,
from Sumatra), some regions of Polynesia, and tropical
America were associated with European and North
American colonization and commerce [11, 12, 14]. In the
Pacific islands, it grows from sea level to 800 m elevation,
and up to 1200 m at lower equatorial latitudes.
Fig. 2: Approximate native range of Cananga odorata
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Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54. Erg.Lfg. 01/10 3
Flowers, fruits and seeds
The highly fragrant, drooping flowers are approxima-
tely 7.5 cm long and borne in groups of 4−12 together
in hanging axillary, umbellate clusters scattered along
the older parts of twigs at leaf bases or from the bran-
ches behind the leaves. Pedicels are 1−2.5 cm long,
elongated in fruit. The calyx has three broad, pointed,
hairy yellow-green lobes (sepals) 0.6 cm long, sprea-
ding and slightly turned back, and six slightly thicke-
ned, straplike, twisted, pointed, slightly hairy petals
usually 4−6 cm long (sometimes up to 8 cm). The pe-
tals are arranged in two series of three each, the outer
ones usually 8−12 mm wide, the inner ones 5−7 mm
wide. Green when young, the petals turn yellow and fi-
nally yellowish-brown and drooping, with a reddish-
brown blot at the base of the three inner petals when
The flowers have numerous stamens less than 3 mm
long that are pointed and becoming reddish tinged at
the apex, crowded into a triangular mass along with
8−15 separate green pistils that are less than 6 mm
long and whose stigmas are also crowded together [12,
Pollinators include nocturnal moths and relatively
small beetles of the families Nitidulidaea, Chrysomeli-
dae and Curculionieae [8, 9].
Ylang-ylang is a medium-sized evergreen tree, typically
10−20 m in height but occasionally up to 40 m in natural
forests in its native Indo-Pacific range. It produces a
single main trunk and an uneven spreading crown of
drooping branches and twigs bearing leaves in two rows.
It is easily recognized by its odd-shaped, very fragrant
yellow or greenish-yellow flowers and distinctive aggre-
gate fruit consisting of 8−15 clustered green or black
Leaves and young shoots
The leaves are dark shiny green above, duller, lighter,
and slightly pubescent beneath, simple, alternate,
ovate-oblong to broadly elliptic, 9−21 cm in length and
4−9 cm wide, with wavy margins, a rounded and
usually unequal base, and finely acuminate apex. As
with most other members of the family Annonaceae,
the leaves are arranged on a single plane along twigs.
Petioles are light green, 6−15 mm long. The leaf mid -
rib is prominent, with 7−12 pairs of lateral veins at an
angle of 45º to the midrib. The twigs are light green
when young, becoming brown, and have a slightly
Fig. 3: Branch with flowers Fig. 4: Flowers picture: C. Elevitch
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4Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54 Erg.Lfg. 01/10
Ylang-ylang flowers from cultivated trees of an early
age, usually during the second year of growth, or when
trees have attained a height of 2 m. Wild trees generally
begin flowering somewhat later, when they reach
9−12 m in height. In areas with relatively aseasonal
temperature and rainfall patterns, as in the Philippines,
mature trees may flower throughout the year, while youn -
ger trees or those grown in more seasonal regions
such as in India generally flower twice each year, with
flowering and fruiting associated with wetter months
Several fruits develop from each flower. These com -
pound fruits are comprised of 6−12 (occasionally up to
20) berries borne in axillary clusters. The fleshy, olive-
like berries are ovoid or obovoid 1.5−2.3 cm long,
glabrous, dark green to black when ripe, each contai-
ning 2−12 (usually 4−5) hard, flattened ovoid, pale
brown, pitted seeds 6 mm or more in diameter, arran-
ged in two rows, embedded in an oily nearly tasteless
Seed weights are variable, with reported averages ran-
ging from 14,000−21,000 per kilogram [11, 12, 14]. In
its native habitat in lowland southeast Asia the fruits
are eaten by small mammals such as squirrels, bats,
monkeys and frugivorous birds, which disperse the
small hard seeds.
Bark and wood
The bark is smooth when young, becoming fissured and
rough, and variable in colour from light or dark brown to
greyish or silvery. The inner bark is yellowish to light brown,
with prominent bast fibres, and has a slightly bitter taste .
The wood is light, averaging 0.48−0.56 g/cm3air-dry, pale
greyish to yellowish in colour with a pinkish tinge. The
sapwood and heartwood are not distinct. The grain is
straight with a coarse texture. Growth rings are inconspi-
cuous, and pores are usually very few and variable in size
from moderately small to large, evenly distributed, isola-
ted and in radial groups of 2−4 or more, open with simple
perforation plates; soft tissue occurs mainly in very fine,
inconspicuous lines between the broad, low, widely spa-
ced rays between which are found two rows of pores. The
wood is easy to work, soft and highly perishable. Shrin-
kage during seasoning from green to air-dry averages
1.5 % radial and 4 % tangential .
Ylang-ylang produces a long taproot. For this reason it
grows best on deep, well-drained soils. It does not produce
buttresses or stilt roots.
Fig. 5: Mature fruits picture: C. Elevitch picture: Ulla M. Lang
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Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54. Erg.Lfg. 01/10 5
Those of the second group, cultivated throughout the tro-
pics, are the source of the distillate traded as ylang-ylang
oil . C. odorata var. fruticosa (CRAIB.) J. SINCL. is a
dwarfed, cultivated form that grows only to 2 m in height.
This variety often has more numerous and more curled
petals than is typical for the species and is not known to
set fruit .
Growth, development and yield
Early growth rates in ylang-ylang are moderately high for
tropical tree species. In plantation trials conducted in the
Philippines, tree heights averaged 1.3, 2.1, 3.8, 5.3 and
8.4 m at, respectively, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 years of age, with
stem diameters at breast height (1.3 m) of 7 and 12 cm at
5 and 7 years . Since ylang-ylang is a light-demanding
species, trees in commercial plantations are typically esta-
blished at a spacing of 6 by 6 m; closer spacing of trees
can result in overcrowding and reduced productivity of
flowers on lower branches .
A good tree can produce up to 5 kg of flowers per year
from four years onwards, and up to 11 kg after 10 years.
Although trees rarely yield more than 20 kg of flowers
per year, individual trees with yields as high as 59 kg
have been recorded in Borneo , and even higher
(30−100 kg per tree) for certain varieties in Java, Fiji
and Samoa . When grown in plantations at 5 by 5 m
spacing (approximately 400 trees per ha), a typical
flower yield of 3,400 kg per hectare has been reported
Propagation and cultivation
The tree is usually propagated from seed, but can also be
propagated by cuttings with varying degrees of success
[13, 14]. Seeds should be collected from mature (black)
fruits and separated from the surrounding oily flesh by
wet sieving. The seeds are orthodox, remaining viable
when dried and stored in airtight containers. Germina-
tion of fresh seed is reportedly erratic, while dried seeds
stored for 6−12 months have higher germination rates.
[11, 14]. Hot water treatment has been shown to stimu-
late germination . Germination in ylang-ylang is hy-
Direct seeding in the field is commonly used to establish
plantings, which is advantageous in that it avoids taproot
damage that can occur with transplantation of nursery-
grown seedlings. Good results are usually obtained by so-
wing several seeds at a depth of 2−3 cm at each planting
spot, which should be prepared prior to seeding by clea-
ring weeds and cultivating to a depth of 50 cm, particu-
larly in compacted soils, to allow for good taproot deve-
differentiation, races and hybrids
In Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei-Darussalam on the is-
land of Borneo, two forms are recognized, the wild (ken-
anga hutan) and the cultivated. The flowers of the cultiva-
ted form are generally more fragrant than those of the
wild form, which may have very little, or even a sour, fra-
grance. Flowering in both the wild and cultivated forms
occurs regularly but only the cultivated form reportedly
produces flowers at very early ages (less than two years)
. Among the cultivated varieties two groups are distin-
guished: forma macrophylla STEENIS, which has branches
perpendicular to the stem (rather than drooping) and
large leaves up to 20 cm long and 10 cm wide, and forma
genuina STEENIS, which has drooping branches and smal-
ler leaves than those of forma macrophylla.
The flowers of the first group are the source of the distil-
late traded as cananga oil and, in the Pacific, is cultivated
in Java, Fiji and Samoa.
Fig. 6: C. odorata stem approx. 20 years old
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6Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54 Erg.Lfg. 01/10
Alternatively, wild seedlings 10−20 cm tall are sometimes
collected and grown in seedling containers for 2−3
months before out-planting . For nursery production,
a light, well drained potting medium is suggested. Seed-
lings between 20−30 cm in height are recommended for
transplanting to the field . Due to their susceptibility
to competition, seedlings and transplants require careful
tending during the first two years of growth.
Vegetative regrowth by coppicing is rapid in ylang-ylang
trees damaged by severe winds or other disturbances.
When grown in plantations, the tree is often heavily pru-
ned or pollarded to maintain trees at a suitable height
(typically 3 m) for collection of flowers. Even large trees
will readily regrow after pruning, and trees are sometimes
felled for their flowers [2, 6, 14].
Within its native and introduced ranges, the tree is best
adapted to humid lowland tropical and subtropical mari-
time climates on sites receiving between 700 and 5000 mm
annual rainfall characterized by uniform or seasonal pre-
cipitation patterns and rainless periods up to two months
. In this region, it occurs in areas with mean annual
temperatures between 18 and 28 ºC, with mean maximum
temperatures of 28−35 ºC during the hottest month and
mean minimum temperatures of 10−18 ºC in the coldest
month. The species cannot tolerate temperatures below
about 5 ºC . It grows on a wide range of soil types of
varying textures, from sands to clay loams and clays, and
can withstand wide variations in soil pH, from 4.5−8.0,
but does poorly on saline and alkaline soils. While it can
tolerate brief periods of waterlogging and can grow on
shallow, infertile soils, it does best on well-drained, volca-
nic or fertile sandy soils .
It is a component of tropical moist to seasonally dry
forests in its native Indo-Pacific range. In Indonesia,
ylang-ylang is found in mixed and teak forests . In In-
donesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, northern
Australia, and nearby tropical Pacific islands, ylang-ylang
is an important food source for many species of fruit
doves and collared pigeons. These include the Collared
Imperial-pigeon (Ducul mullerii), Purple-tailed Imperial-
pigeon (Ducula rugigaster), Zoe’s Imperial-pigeon (Du-
cula zoeae), Superb Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus superbus),
Pink-spotted Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus perlatus), Coroneted
Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus coronulatus), Orange-bellied Fruit-
dove (Ptilinopus iozonus), and the Wompoo Fruit-dove
(Ptilinopus magnificus) .
In many regions where it has been introduced as an orna-
mental tree or in plantations or agroforestry systems, it
has become naturalized. As pioneer species, it regenerates
easily from seed in open areas, where it becomes quickly
In Guam, for example, it is found in secondary forests
near roadways with other introduced species such as Leu-
caena leucocephala, Spathodea campanulata, and
Areca catechu . In Sri Lanka, it is locally naturalized
in moist secondary forests in the lowlands . Despite its
naturalization in many regions, it is rarely considered a
pest and is not considered an invasive species according to
the Pacific Ecosystems at Risk project .
The tree grows best in full sunlight, although it can tolerate
moderate shade, as in traditional agroforestry systems in
the Pacific islands. When grown in denser, mixed stands in
competition with other species, height growth is rapid, ac-
companied by self-pruning of its lower branches .
There is little published information on pests and diseases
of ylang-ylang, with none reported from the Pacific is-
lands . However, there are some reports of damage to
trees by stem borers, flower-eating beetles, and other in -
sects causing leaf wilting . In India, the parasitic plant
Dendrophthoa falcate (L.f.) ETTINGSH. is reported to be a
potential though not serious problem in ylang-ylang plan-
The limbs of ylang-ylang are brittle and highly suscep-
tible to wind damage, although it rapidly regrows follo-
wing damage by heavy winds. Heavy rains or prolonged
dry spells are very damaging to the flowers.
The tree is widely planted as an ornamental in homegar-
dens, especially in many islands of the Pacific. In Malay-
sia it is used as a street tree. In agroforestry systems in the
Pacific island of Pohnpei it is used as an understory trellis
tree for yam (Dioscorea spp.) .
The tree is valued chiefly for its flowers, which yield ylang-
ylang oil which is used in the manufacture of numerous
beauty products such as perfumes, soaps, shampoos and
hair oils. One of the principal products is Macassar oil,
coconut oil scented with ylang-ylang, which has a good
though restricted market in many parts of the world. The
flowers themselves are valued in Borneo and elsewhere for
their scent, the dried flowers being sold in markets and are
worn in women’s hair and laid between cloth to impart an
agreeable scent. In Samoa and other Pacific islands, the
flowers are used to make garlands and headdresses, and
their beautiful fragrance is celebrated in songs [1, 14].
Flowers attain their peak fragrance 15−20 days after ope-
ning, when they have changed colour from green to yellow
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Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse – 54. Erg.Lfg. 01/10 7
decades of the 20th century, commercial production of na-
tural ylang-ylang oil was concentrated in the Philippines,
Java, India and Madagascar, but since the 1950s commer-
cial production for international markets has become con-
centrated in the Indian Ocean region, specifically in Ma-
dagascar and, especially the Comoros, where ylang-ylang
oil is a very significant export product [6, 13, 14].
The wood of this tree is non-durable and subject to ter-
mite attack, and has very limited value for timber. It is
some times used for wooden shoes, boxes and crates, tool
handles, net-floats and lathe turnings [5, 21, 22]. Being
very resonant, it is good for making drums. In Samoa, the
Northern Mariana Islands and elsewhere in the Pacific,
the wood is reportedly used for making canoes, furniture
(in the Cook Islands), and for general construction (in
Tonga and Samoa) [14, 15, 20, 21, 22]. Coarse ropes can
be made from the fibrous bark [3, 14, 15, 22].
Ylang-ylang has a variety of medicinal properties and tra-
ditional therapeutic uses. In Tonga and Samoa, the bark is
used to treat stomach ailments and as a laxative. In Java,
the fresh flowers are pounded into a paste for use in the
treatment of asthma, and the dried flowers are reportedly
used for treating malaria . Many parts of the tree are
used in traditional medicine in India. The fresh flowers are
reportedly prescribed as a carminative and in the treat-
ment of asthma, and an infusion of the flowers is used af-
ter bathing or rubbed on the skin to prevent skin itching.
Also in India, the essential oils from the flowers is used as
an external application for treatment of headache, oph -
thalmia and gout. The leaves are considered useful for
treating diarrhea in infants, and rubbed on the skin to
relieve itching and boils. The fruits and seeds are used for
treating fevers. The bark, rich in alkaloids, is sometimes
given as a decoction for treatment of rheumatism,
phlegm, ophthalmia, ulcers, fevers, and to improve com-
plexion . The essential oils are also used in aromathe-
rapy and are thought to be beneficial for treating depres-
sion, distressed breathing, high blood pressure, anxiety,
and as an aphrodisiac .
The ylang-ylang and cananga oil are sometimes added as
a flavouring in beverages and foods, and are used extensi-
vely in hair oils and other cosmetic products.
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It is recommended that flower collections should be done
at night or in the early morning hours, when their scent is
strongest. When processed for their essential oil, this
should be done immediately after harvest. The most com-
mon and recommended method is steam distillation, alt-
hough distillation in water is sometimes used, but with
mixed results. The first part of the distillate recovered
consists mainly of the more readily volatile and oxygena-
ted ester constituents and traces of terpenes. This repre-
sents 50−60 % of the total oil recovered and is the best
quality ylang-ylang oil. Prolonged distillation yields
mainly sesquiterpenes and a product of lower quality
known commercially as cananga oil . Volatile oil yields
by steam distillation usually average 1−2 kg per 100 kg of
flowers, depending on the quality of the flowers, their
handling, and the distillation technology used [13, 14].
The quality of the natural oil produced is somewhat va-
riable, and synthetic versions are currently produced
which have, to some extent, substituted for natural ylang-
ylang oil in the French perfume industry. During the early
Fig. 7: C. odorata housegarden planting in Puerto Rico
(picture: G. & J. McMurray).
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