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The Joy Perfume Tree grows quite tall in its homeland

February 1, 2017

At the beginning of the Great Depression as the world seemed to be coming to an end for many of the wealthy, the fashion designer Jean Patou had his in-house perfumer Henri Alméras create a perfume that would mark Patou's salon as the ultimate luxury. 

The best doesn't come cheap, and this new perfume was not only expensive to buy, but perhaps the costliest fragrance to produce. 

But Joy de Jean Patou or simply Joy was a stunning success, and continues to be one of the top perfumes in the world.One of the key ingredients of Joy perfume is from one of the most fragrant flowers in the world, a creamy yellow-orange flower that you can grow yourself. In honor of its ties to the famous perfume, this houseplant is called the Joy Perfume Tree (Michelia champaca). 

This member of the magnolia family has brightly polished evergreen leaves and smooth, grey bark. 

In spring and fall expect extremely fragrant star-shaped blooms. Set it out on your patio during the summer and watch the hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators come in droves. In its native Asian homeland the Joy Perfume Tree grows quite tall, and is used for timber, as firewood and even to make a yellow fabric dye. It is even fashioned into drums. 

Because these plants do not like their roots disturbed, you can plan for your tree staying for several years before needing a new pot. 

Drainage is important for this small tree, so add a cup or two of activated charcoal (often sold for aquarium filters) to the potting mix. Set your plant where it will get full or partial sunlight. If your indoor area is dry, mist the trees for increased humidity. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and then water thoroughly so that water drains out of the bottom of the pot. Never let the tree sit in wet soil. 

Feed the tree only when it is actively growing from spring to fall. Use a blooming fertilizer that will have analysis of around 7-9-5 on the label. 

You can prune the tree to keep it in shape, but go easy; too-heavy pruning will result in far fewer flowers. 

The flower buds grow out from among the leaves instead of at the tips of the branches. Always handle your Joy Perfume Tree gently as the tender, brittle buds break off easily. Don't be concerned if the flower buds don't open right away; they may just wait for warm weather before blooming. Grow your own Michelia champaca and you will have one of the most fragrant flowers on earth. 

And that fragrance can, dare I say, bring you much joy.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.