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Chinese Perfume Plants rarely set fruit

September 21, 2016

As cooler weather moves in this autumn, many gardeners suffering form arthritis will actually feel weather changes in their joints. Arthritis affects everything in our joints, including the joint lining, and the ligaments and all those tissues have nerve endings in them, so when barometric pressure changes, as it does when storms are a-brewin', you will feel changes in the weather as stiffness or tightness in the joint. Traditional Chinese medicine calls for boiled dried branches, and dried leaves to ease rheumatic joint pain. 

While many medicines such as iodine have a decidedly awful smell, these healing branches have tiny rice-like blooms with very fragrant, almost fresh lemon scent.

This is Chinese Perfume Plant (Aglaia odorata). Each flower looks like a tiny grain of rice, lending it the nickname Chinese rice flower, and its slightly sweet, lemony scent gives it the additional common name of mock lemon. 

Whatever you call it, this everblooming houseplant easily grows in clay pots, and is happy with almost no care. It will thrive even in lower light and low humidity, and best of all, blooms repeatedly throughout the year.

Oddly the scent is strongest during the day, and it may not even smell at night. 
In a pot it can reach up to three or four feet tall. The glossy green leaves make it attractive even when not in bloom. Though it is hardy to 28 degrees, most gardeners treat it as a houseplant.

Choose a spot in full sun or filtered light. They thrive in average room temperature above 60 degrees F.

You can move your potted Chinese Perfume Plant outside to the patio or garden once temperatures have stabilized in early summer, and bring it back indoors in late summer or early fall. 

Water the plant moderately, and let the soil dry out between waterings. Just don't let it dry out completely. As with most houseplants, never let the soil get soggy or remain watery. 
Plants are available at specialty nurseries or by mail from Logee's (www.logees.com), or Pernell Gerver (www.pernellgerver.com). 

Chinese Perfume Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers bloom on separate plants) and only rarely set fruit. Since seeds rarely form on houseplants, you can propagate them by rooting cuttings or air layering. Pot them up in average potting soil with a pH between 6.1 (mildly acidic) and 7.5 (neutral). 

At first glance Aglaia odorata is not especially attractive, and the fragrance is slight, and yet strong enough that it often sneaks up on you. Soon it will become one of your favorites. 
This slow-growing treasure blooms throughout the year, adding charm to even the the stormiest days.

And in a pinch you can always boil the branches and leaves for traditional Chinese medicine to fight the pains of arthritis. And that sweet scent will soothe you down to your bones.

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