Ylang Ylang, from Madagascar to Comoros

Ylang Ylang, from Madagascar to Comoros

Ylang ylang, the flower of the Indian Ocean

As with many perfume plants, ylang ylang is a travelling plant.
Native to the Moluccas (East of Indonesia), this tropical tree from the magnolia family, blooms throughout the year. History states that a German sailor Albertus Schwenger, charmed by the captivating fragrance of its flowers, installed the first ylang ylang distillation unit in 1860 in Manila, the Philippines, which gave rise to the trade of essential oil. Then the production moved to Reunion Island, where spice hunters had introduced the tree in the 18th century. It has finally been established in the North of Madagascar and in the Comoro Islands.
Its floral and suave note makes it a raw material reserved for feminine perfumes. The first ones to give it recognition are Chanel N°5 (1921) and Bois des Iles (Chanel, 1926), then later Diorissimo (Dior, 1956). With its variety of properties, the essential oil is greatly used in beauty products and aromatherapy.
The supply of ylang ylang is however fragile because it is often linked to irregular market demands, changes in the quality obtained but also problems of access to water and wood for its distillation.
Biolandes has been growing ylang ylang in a plantation to the North-west of Madagascar since 1997 and distils the blossoms picked there everyday. The takeover of a production facility on the Comoro Islands in 2014 completed the ylang ylang’s range and has improved the control of the entire supply chain.
With this fifth book, we invite you to discover this exceptional flower harvested everyday by men and women from the Comoro Islands and Madagascar.

The flower among flowers

Its scientific name Cananga odorata comes from the Malaysian name for the Kenonga or Kananga tree. The Filipino name alang ylang evokes the “suspended, mobile bunches” of these flowers in the wind. Reminiscent of carnations, narcissus or jasmine, its petals release a strong and spicy fragrance. The “perfume of all perfumes” fills the air with a soft and heady fragrance perceived by anyone crossing the plantations at sunset.

A long journey across the Indian Ocean. FROM THE PHILIPPINES….

From 1860 to 1950 the production of ylang ylang oil was concentrated in the Philippines which saw a real Golden age for around fifty years. Sold under the name ‘ylang ylang oil par excellence’, it was then the reference in European fragrances. Today there are still huge trees but the distillation of their blossoms has ceased.


At the end of the 18th century, in the days of spice hunters, the first ylang ylang saplings arrived in Reunion Island from the Moluccan Islands. However the first essential oil production only started at the beginning of the 20th century.

A flower that loves warmth and humidity

The tropical heat from the canal of Mozambique makes this region ideal for the ylang ylang cultivation. Trees are planted on the slopes of volcanos in the Comoro Islands and Nosy Be or in the great alluvial plains in the North of Madagascar.

A tree that obeys man’s will

In its natural environment, the cananga tree can reach a height of 30m. Here it is kept at a man’s height in order to make the flowers easier to pick. Folding and cutting branches, as well as suckering young shoots, all prevent this giant from rising up to the sky!

Two-faced agriculture

In the Comoro Islands or Nosy Be, hundreds of small plots of ylang ylang are maintained by families of growers. In the Ambanja region of Madagascar, only a few huge plantations dating back to the colonial estates, extend over several dozens of acres. History has thus created two agricultural models.

A harvest all year long

Ylang ylang blossoms all year long with a peak just after the rainy season. The petals’ color changes from light green to deep yellow with a crimson red mark in the middle, a sign to the pickers that the flower is ripe.

A generous tree

The ylang ylang starts producing flowers after five years and for almost 50 years. One tree can easily provide up to twenty kilos of flowers per year…

Pickers’ everyday life

The harvest guarantees a daily income. After furrowing the plots for 3 hours, each picker will have collected about fifteen kilos of flowers.

Weighing the flowers in the shade of the “cabars”* tree

Pickers meet at the scales for the weighing of the flowers to reward their day’s work. It is a moment of rest, encounters and everyone enjoys this moment to chat together.

from the Malagasy “kabaris”: discussions, chats…

Immediate distillation

Since the flowers are fragile, the distillation occurs straight after picking, close to the plantations. The stills are ready, smoking and waiting for the fresh flowers.

A long distillation process for an extraordinary flower

The ylang ylang flower is incredibly rich in essential oil and outmatches all other flowers: only 40 to 50 kg of flowers are needed to produce one kilo of oil, when almost 4000 kg of roses are required to obtain one kilo of oil.

A special feature of ylang ylang: a fragmented distillation

The distillation is slow and lasts almost 24 hours. The essential oil flows continuously into the separator. It is fractionated into 4 successive grades. The first grades, called Extra and First, have the highest density which decreases in the Second and Third grades.

Each grade has a specific use

If the first grades, rich in esters, are more often reserved for luxury perfumes, all the others have their utility too. Second and Third qualities are reserved for beauty and home care fragrances. And the “complete” oil, a mixture of all grades, is particularly appreciated in aromatherapy.

A sensual essential oil

The ylang ylang essential oil is among the most suave and sensual in perfumery. It is powerful, floral, spicy, camphorated and slightly fruity. Its profile is different according to its origin; the Comoro ylang ylang is very floral, heady and slightly smoky, whereas the ylang ylang from Madagascar is more airy and sunny.

An artisanal distillation that needs support

The quality of the oils produced depends on the control of all the distillation parameters. Supporting this artisanal production in the small “bush” stills means accompanying all the craftsmen involved in ylang ylang.

Make the producers aware of their responsibility

Because of the multiple distillations a large amount of wood is required to produce this essential oil. Protecting this resource means sustaining the ylang ylang production. Reducing the consumption of wood in the stills or encouraging the plantation of fast-growing tree species, are different ways of supporting this production.

Biolandes’ choice in Madagascar: to cultivate organic ylang ylang

Set up in the plains of the Sambirano river in Ambanja in the middle of its plantation, Biolandes’ farm has chosen to produce an original grade of ylang ylang, the ylang VOP (Volatil Oil Parts). This nectar which is gathered during the first hours of distillation brings a modern facet to the traditional qualities of Malagasy ylang ylang.

Biolandes’ choice in the Comoro Islands: to distill in Anjouan

By purchasing the last distillery in activity on the island of Anjouan, Biolandes can now offer a complete range of ylang ylang with the Comorian qualities. Thanks to a well-established network of small farmers, the factory produces the grade called Extra superior.
This rare and precious scent that the flower exhales with the first heat of the day, is a sign of prestigious fragrances…

Sustaining the ylang ylang supply

Thanks to its total integration in Madagascar and its production site in the Comoro Islands, Biolandes’ long term approach is to enable the men and women, who work everyday towards the production of this essential oil, to pass on their know-how to future generations.

Yields and products

Indian Ocean (a few isolated production sites in West Africa)
The Union of the Comoro Islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli
Mayotte (A French Overseas Department)
Madagascar (Ambanja on Grande Terre and Nosy Be)

100 kg of flowers yield around 2 kg of oil.
A yearly production worldwide of about 60 tons of essential oil:
- Of which the Comoro Islands: 1st producer in the world with about 40 t
(Anjouan 25-30 t, Moheli 4-5 t, Grande Comore 1 to 2 t + Mayotte 2 t).
- Of which Madagascar: 15-20 t.

Fragrances: brings a powerful floral, spicy note.
Aromatherapy: used for its sedative, antiseptic, aphrodisiac properties…
Its many benefits are explained by its extremely complex biochemistry.
Flavors: used to flavor ice cream, sweets, drinks…

A unique establishment at the ylang ylang source with 2 production sites:
- An organic farm of 220 hectares and its factory in Ambanja, Madagascar.
- A factory in Domoni, Anjouan.
The equivalent in commercialized oil of 900 tons of flowers per year.
Work on a daily basis for roughly 300 people.