Cananga – The Plant, The Oil, The History

If only most of us, who confuse Conanga with Ylang Ylang, knew the historical background of the two separate plants, we wouldn’t have got confused in the first place and have known the separate benefits of the two in the second.

A dwarf variety of C. odorata known as var. fruticosa (Craib) Sinclair, is often seen in tropical gardens. It is a bush 1-1.5 m tall, with frequently supernumerary, very curly petals. It flowers throughout the year, but never sets fruits. It probably originates from Thailand.

Two groups can be distinguished in cultivated C. odorata: cv. group Cananga (forma macrophylla Steenis), flowers are the source of cananga oil; branches perpendicular to the stem; leaves 20 cm x 10 cm; cultivated in Java, Fiji and Samoa; and cv. group Ylang-ylang (forma genuina Steenis), the source of ylang-ylang oil; branches more drooping; leaves smaller; probably originating from the Philippines and cultivated throughout the tropics.

Commercial cultivation of C. odorata for the production of ylang-ylang oil started in the Philippines, later followed by the production of cananga oil in Indonesia. The First World War almost destroyed ylang-ylang cultivation in the Philippines, only one plantation continuing cultivation until the Second World War. In the Philippines C. odorata is now a smallholder crop grown almost exclusively for local use. In 1770 C. odorata was brought from the Philippines to RÚunion, where commercial production of ylang-ylang oil started a century later.

Production grew steadily, but declined sharply during the First World War; it never recovered and production virtually ceased during the economic depression of the 1930s. In the beginning of the 20th Century C. odorata was introduced into the Comoro Islands, where an important industry developed. Production peaked during the 1980s, but then declined due to the development of tourism and expansion of food production.

Similarly, an ylang-ylang industry developed in the northern Madagascan island Nosy BÚ; it peaked around 1950 and then gradually declined. In Guangdong Province in southern China, production started recently and is still expanding. The main exporters of ylang-ylang oil are -

  • Indonesia
  • The Comoro Islands
  • Nosy BÚ

Java is the main producer of cananga oil; outside Java, the production of cananga oil is only important in Fiji.

Have a look at our reference links –

  1. Cananga Oil by Bumina
  2. Cananga Oil by The Herb Depot
  3. Cananga Plant by Plants Of Hawaii