Native to the rainforests in South-Eastern Asia, ylang-ylang or Cananga odorata was introduced by the French in the islands of the Indian Ocean at the end of the 18th century. The powerful and floral note of this very sensual and relaxing aphrodisiac became an icon of Mayotte.
To ease the harvesting of the flowers, trees are pruned to no more than 6.6 to 9.8 ft. The result is that the sinuous branches draw a kind of crown above the trunk, gilded with grey bark. Then, the flowering happens several time a year.
According to the Agriculture and Forestry Department, ylang-ylang plantations cover an area of 252 acres on the island, far from the 2500 acres between the 1950s and the 1980s. Today the production is limited to small producers on lands that are often smaller than 3 acres, located in the heart of the island. Still, in 2016, Mayotte exported 1160 pounds of ylang-ylang essential oil.
To produce this essential oil with its divine fragrance, flowers are distilled with fresh water through a still that is often heated with wood. To make one pound of oil, 55 pounds of flowers need to be distilled.
Even if the distillation lasts between 12 and 24 hours, it's during the first hours that the flowers give off their most precious elixir. Depending on the density of the essence, there are 5 categories (called fractions): Extra S, Extra, Première, Deuxième and Troisième. The first three are used for luxe perfumes, while the two last are used for cosmetics and soap. The quality of the top fractions from Maorais essential oil are highly esteemed in the world of perfumery.
To promote Maorais ylang-ylang, Mayotte is developing a center of rural excellence in Coconi. It will offer a production and commercialization space to ylang-ylang and vanilla producers, reenforcing researches and welcoming tourists.
Several plantations on the island offer guided tours to discover the trees, understand the harvests, and observe distillation in stills. Just follow the scent of the flowers...
Chanel N°5, Poison de Dior, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, Chamade de Guerlain, l’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci—ylang-ylang helps compose some of the most famous and timeless French fragrances.