Cananga odorata, known as the cananga tree (Indonesian: kenanga, Thai: kradangnga, Filipino: ilang-ilang), is a tropical tree that is native from India, through parts of Indochina, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, to Queensland, Australia. It is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers, called ylang-ylang EE-lahng-EE-lahng (a name also sometimes used for the tree itself), which is an essential oil used in aromatherapy. The tree is also called the fragrant cananga, Macassar-oil plant, or perfume tree. Its traditional Polynesian names include Mata‘oi (Cook Islands), Mohokoi (Tonga), Moso‘oi (Samoa), Moto‘oi (Hawaii), and Mokosoi, Mokasoi or Mokohoi (Fiji).
The ylang-ylang vine (Artabotrys odoratissimus) and climbing ylang-ylang (Artabotrys hexapetalus) are woody, evergreen climbing plants in the same family. Artabotrys odoratissimus is also a source of perfume.
Cananga odorata is a fast-growing tree of the custard apple family Annonaceae. Its growth exceeds 5 m (16 ft) per year, and it attains an average height of 12 m (39 ft) in an ideal climate. The evergreen leaves are smooth and glossy, oval, pointed and with wavy margins, and 13–21 cm (5–8.5 in) long. The flower is drooping, long-stalked, with six narrow, greenish-yellow (rarely pink) petals, rather like a sea star in appearance, and yields a highly fragrant essential oil. Its pollen is shed as permanent tetrads.
The plant is native to much of tropical Asia, from India to Papua New Guinea, and to Queensland, Australia. It is commonly grown in Madagascar, Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and the Comoros islands. It grows in full or partial sun, and prefers the acidic soils of its native rainforest habitat. Ylang-ylang has been cultivated in temperate climates under conservatory conditions.
Its clusters of black fruit are an important food item for birds, such as the collared imperial-pigeon, purple-tailed imperial-pigeon, Zoe's imperial-pigeon, superb fruit-dove, pink-spotted fruit-dove, coroneted fruit-dove, orange-bellied fruit-dove, and wompoo fruit-dove. Sulawesi red-knobbed hornbill serves as an effective seed disperser for C. odorata.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It is believed to relieve high blood pressure and normalize sebum secretion for skin problems, and is considered to be an aphrodisiac. The oil from ylang-ylang is widely used in perfumery for oriental- or floral-themed perfumes (such as Chanel No. 5). Ylang-ylang blends well with most floral, fruit and wood scents.
In Indonesia, ylang-ylang flowers are spread on the bed of newlywed couples. In the Philippines, its flowers, together with the flowers of the sampaguita, are strung into a necklace (lei) and worn by women and used to adorn religious images.
The fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli. The essential oil of the flower is obtained through steam distillation of the flowers and separated into different grades (extra, 1, 2, or 3) according to when the distillates are obtained. The main aromatic components of ylang-ylang oil are benzyl acetate, linalool, p-cresyl methyl ether, and methyl benzoate, responsible for its characteristic odor.