The “flower of flowers” is native to the Philippines and was brought to Comoros by the French in 1885. At one time Comoros grew 90% of the world’s ylang-ylang.

The ylang ylang tree is an evergreen that grows to 20 meters high, but can be trained as a bush by a continuous pruning. It likes sunny but not dry conditions.

The tree is covered year-round with drooping, long-stalked, fragrant flowers that have six narrow petals 5 cm (2 inches) long. The flowers start off white in color, then change to green-yellow, and then to orange-reddish. They smell exceptionally strongly at night which lures moths, which are necessary for fertilization.

The leaves of the ylang-ylang are shiny, 10 cm long, with wavy edges. They grow on thin drooping branches.

The flowers are harvested when the petals turn yellow. It takes about 45 kilograms of flowers to produce one liter of essence. Distillation begins as soon as the flowers are picked. The blossoms are simmered in water for two or three hours. As the mixture boils, the essential oil is condensed and drawn off through a drip tube. Once the water evaporates, more is poured into the vat so that the total distillation time is about six or seven hours.

The aromatic essential oil was for years important to the perfume industry.

References: http://home.arcor.de/bethge/ylangeng.htm; http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9077977/ylang-ylang