The sight and aroma of this beautiful flower is always a joy, and I was reminded of this while attending a funeral recently. There was a huge frangipani tree on the grounds of the church cemetery. Not only the size of the tree, but also the colour of its flowers – delicate fuchsia pink petals with a touch of orange-gold in the centre, contrasted with shiny, dark green leaves and rustic branches, was spectacular. I knew my contact with the tree on this occasion would be fleeting, so I passed by as close to it as I could on my way to the grave site. For that very brief moment I tried to preserve the scent in my memory as best as I could.
I would best describe the aroma of the fresh, unpicked frangipani flowers in the cemetery as softly floral, clean, and with a delicate – not intoxicating – sweetness.
Later at home I decided to compare this aroma to that of some frangipani absolute that I obtained in small quantity from a supplier. This particular frangipani oil was sourced from Haiti and obtained via solvent extraction of the petals. My first impression of the absolute was that it was quite different from the scent of the fresh petals. It was more complex, with a spicy quality similar to pepper, slightly green and balsamic, with a faint, honey-like sweetness which tended to stay more in the background. It was definitely more spicy than sweet, and not floral or narcotic like other floral absolutes.
About twenty-four hours or so I smelt it again on the smelling strip and the earthy, spicy notes had faded away, leaving just the balsamic, honey-sweetness.
I went online and found a GC/MS* for frangipani absolute extracted by hexane solvent. The most important chemical compounds were found to be: benzyl salicylate (faint, sweet, floral, jasmine-like), benzyl benzoate (sweet and balsamic), farnesol (also found in many other plants including neroli, tuberose, tolu balsam and rose), geraniol (sweet, rose-like), isoeicosane and linalool (soft, floral, woody). There were others as well (about 17 in total) in lesser and trace amounts.
So how could we use this information? We could use it to create a frangipani base or scent by blending some or all of these individual aromatic molecules together. It wouldn’t necessarily be a complete frangipani perfume, but it could act as a simple, raw concept or “skeleton” for one.
Or if you didn’t want your frangipani base to smell exactly like the absolute and more like the fresh petals, you could also construct and adjust the formula more to your liking, by leaving out or reducing or increasing the quantity of some of the aroma molecules, or by substituting them for others altogether.
You could also research to what degree the aroma molecules that contribute to the scent of frangipani can be found in other more readily obtainable essential oils like, for example, ylang ylang – which is also high in benzyl benzoate. Or linalool, which can also be found in bergamot, ho leaf, lavender, and rosewood (endangered) among many others, and perhaps use those instead of the individual aroma molecules. It most likely wouldn’t smell exactly like the original frangipani, and you would need to experiment with your chosen materials a lot. But the aim would be to get the different notes in your formula to combine perfectly until they each lose their individual identities and create a harmonized, single note or frangipani accord.
I found the presence of the frangipani tree in the church yard to be a moving, sad and uplifting experience all at the same time. I plan to go back there again soon to analyze the scent of the frangipani petals some more, and also to take a photo of the tree.
* Comparative Study of Scented Compound Extraction from Plumeria obtusa L