Ilang-ilang Tree

Scientific Name

Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hocker F. and Thomas

Physical Characteristics

Ilang-ilang flowers and leaves

Ilang-ilang is a medium-sized tree reaching a height of up to 40 meters tall and about 45 centimeters in diameter with a straight stem. It has an irregularly-shaped crown and, sometimes, a drooping, brittle branch formation. When grown for perfume extraction, it is grown not more than three meters tall for easy collection of the flowers.

The trunk is generally cylindrical in shape up to the first branch and without buttress. The bark is smooth, pale grey to silvery. The leaves are simple, alternate, about 13 to 29 centimeters by four to 10 centimeters, and medium green in color. The stalk is slender, about one to two centimeters long, and smooth. The leaf blade is ovate-oblong and the base is often of unequal sides, sometimes rounded or heart-shaped; its margins are more or less wavy while the midrib and lateral veins are whitish hairy on both sides.

Inflorescence is about one to four centimeters long with two to six flowers on short, leafless and axillary shoots. The flowers are bisexual, axillary, five to 7.5 centimeters long, and dull green in color that turns yellowish with age.

The fruits, which are about 25 millimeters by 15 millimeters on a stalk that is 10 to 20 millimeters long, are pendulous. They consist of many separate monocarps that turn from dark green to black when ripe. The monocarps consist of two to 12 seeds embedded in yellowish oily pulp arranged in two rows.

Ilang-ilang Fruits

The seeds are flat, hard, pale brown, and about 9 millimeters by 6 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters.


Ilang-ilang grows well in more humid lowland tropics or moist valleys, sometimes with other evergreen and teak trees. It prefers well-lighted and well-drained places and favors fertile sandy loam and volcanic soils with high organic matter in lowland areas with an elevation of not more than 900 meters. The species grows well in areas with no distinct dry season.

Methods of propagation

Ilang-ilang is normally propagated by seeds or wilding and rarely by cuttings.

Fresh seed germinates erratically but higher after six to 12 months of storage. Hot water treatment of the seeds is used successfully. Vegetative propagation by stem cutting and budding has been tried with varying success.

The seeds generally have a low germinating capacity of only about 70 percent. Seeds complete germination in about 60-80 days after sowing. Soaking the seeds in warm water with an initial temperature of 60 percent for 24 hours will enhance germination of seeds. Seeds are sown directly in a prepared seedbed consisting of 50 percent sandy soil and 50 percent compost. Seedlings are subsequently transferred in polyethylene bags containing the same soil medium. Upon reaching a height of about 25-30 centimeters, seedlings are hardened and transplanted to permanent areas.

Propagation of ilang-ilang using stem cuttings has been tried. This technique, however, was found to be successful only when the plant materials were obtained from seedlings but not from mature trees. Rooting success of shoot explants from 2.5 year-old trees is only about 3.5 percent. Indolebutric acid (IBA), an auxin, can enhance root formation of ilang-ilang cuttings.

Ilang-ilang can also be asexually propagated by means of cleft-grafting. Percent take in grafting can be as high as 80 percent using scions with five to six millimeters stem diameter onto seven-month old seedling rootstocks.


The scented flowers are soaked in coconut oil to make a pleasantly perfumed body lotion that is sometimes thought to ward off malevolent spirits. They are said to cure spirit-caused illnesses.

Traditional use

The essential oil from the flowers contains caryophyllene, used to treat hepatitis and other medicinal applications. The seeds may be used to treat fever. In Indonesia, the flowers are used against malaria and leaves are rubbed on the skin to treat itchiness. Dried flowers and bark are also used medicinally. The oil has a euphoric and sedative effect on the nervous system; it can help with anxiety, tension, shock, fear, and panic. Its aphrodisiac qualities may be of use in impotence and frigidity. It could have a soothing effect on the skin and its stimulating effect on the scalp could promote more luxurious hair growth.

Contemporary use

The wood can be used for firewood, wooden clogs, and net floaters. The bast fibers can be made into coarse rope. The wood is occasionally used for fuel wood. The timber is used for local construction, building canoes, and matches. Its flowers can be made into leis and garlands. During town festivities, it is popularly given as leis to guests and offered in religious ceremonies. They also yield essential oil that is used in manufacturing perfumes. Subsequent extracts are used in soap, cosmetics, and other hygienic by-products. The oil is sometimes used in food and beverages. It is widely planted in home gardens and roadsides as an ornamental. It is usually cultivated in backyards and gardens together with other crops. Ilang-ilang flower petals are strewn upon the bed on wedding nights.