Heavenly Fragrance of Gardenia

White Gardenia flower with bud and glossy green leaves
Gardenia flower, bud and leaves. CC Image by Beverly Buckley from Pixabay 

Gardenias are grown in the UK as house plants with beautiful white flowers and glossy green foliage. The heady fragrance is intoxicating. Gardenias can be found on sale in flower at Christmas. According to the RHS, it is a difficult house plant to look after. This attractive, fragrant, acid-loving plant seems worth the extra effort.

Coffee Family in Dispute

Gardenia is in the Rubiaceae or Coffee family. It is also the family of the Madders and Bedstraws. Taxonomists cannot currently agree on how the family should be divided. DNA analysis has led to a major revamp. Experts cannot decide on whether to settle on 2 or 4 subfamilies.

Kew’s Plants of the World (2017) propose that Rubiaceae contains around 593 genera and around 13,620 species. Gardenia includes 133 species.

Garden the Naturalist

The Gardenia jasminoides is named after the 18th century Scottish naturalist, Dr Alexander Garden (1730-1791). He was born in Aberdeenshire and went to South Carolina as a young doctor. He spent his spare time studying the local fauna and flora, sending countless specimens to Linnaeus. He also corresponded enthusiastically and extensively with Linnaeus. It was apparently not until the third such letter that Linnaeus actually answered. The flower named after him was neither from Scotland or South Carolina. He ended his days in London after a sad change in fortunes.

Perfume Industry

The Gardenia‘s introduction to perfume came relatively late by comparison with other flowers. They are delicate. A number of standard production techniques do not work as a result. A high volume of flowers is also required to a low oil output ratio. This led to the replacement of Gardenia flowers with synthetic compounds.

The Gardenia is generally considered a secondary floral in perfumery. There are relatively few single flower fragrances in perfumes today. It tends to be used as a fragrance modifier. Its heyday was in 1970s. The most successful fragrance was Jungle Gardenia that is still available today. It was also used in the original Chanel Nº5 formula.

Modern aversions to animal testing and synthetic compounds are changing perfumery trends. Some past ingredients are now recognised as carcinogenic. There is a return to more natural sources for perfume. Gardenia fragrance is enjoying a revival. It is also appreciated in lotions, cosmetics, soaps and powders.

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

References and Further Reading

Anonis, Danute Pajaujis (1983): Gardenia in Perfumery. Perfumer & Flavorist. Volume 8. October/November 1983. Allured Publishing Corp. Last accessed 19 December 2019. (by Consulting Chemist Perfumer, Forest Hills, NY).

Bussell, Gene B. (2015): Gardenias: A Fragrance That Captivates. Southern Living. June 2005. Last accessed 19 December 2019.

Christenhusz, Maarten J. M. & Fay, Michael F. & Chase, Mark W. (2017): Plants of the World. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Vascular Plants. Kew. Chicago.

RHS (2019): Gardenia. RHS Gardening. Last accessed 19 December 2019.

Sanders, Albert E. (2016): Garden, Alexander. South Carolina Encyclopedia. 9 August 2016. University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies. Last accessed 19 December 2019.

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