Michelia x alba
One of our most highly and deliciously scented flowers occurs on a tree called Michelia x alba or White Champaca which is thought to be a cross between Michelia champaca and Michelia montana. This tree is only known in cultivation. These two Michelia come from the lower Himalayas to India, China and Southeast Asia. (Most species of Michelia come from subtropical areas and are related to Magnolias.)
These two warm climate Michelias grow naturally into huge trees which are often used for timber. In New Zealand Michelia x alba doesn’t grow too fast so can be used in a garden situation in warm areas or it can be grown in a tub where it can be moved around for best scent distribution.
The flower is not very big and has long, pointed petals, white to light cream in colour. They rise amongst the shiny attractive leaves along the branches. Flowering is over several months, winter and spring and into summer. The flowers don’t stand out on the tree but it is the scent which draws you to them. Some people describe the scent as “pungent and fruity with overtones of apples, bananas, pears and even mangoes” “Joy” one of the worlds most expensive perfumes is supposed to use the essential oil extracted from M. alba. The crushed leaves are also fragrant.
In Asia the buds and flowers are used to adorn temples where the scent is supposed to rise up and get the gods attention. The buds can be floated in water for scenting ones house.
The plants prefer a well drained soil where there is adequate moisture and sheltered from the wind. They will grow in light shade but are better with some sun during the day. Plants are not easily obtainable but are worth trying to find.