Tuberose of Grasse Newsletter
And the jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose,
The sweetest flower for scent that blows;
And all rare blossoms from every clime
Grew in that garden in perfect prime.
---Percy Bysshe Shelley
In the gardens surrounding Grasse a number of flowers were grown which eventually rose to prominence as the backbones of the natural aromatic palette of the region. Tuberose, Violet, Rose de Mai, Cassie, Orange Blossom, and Jasmin were chief amongst the cultivated plants. This newsletter concerns itself with Tuberose, its history in Grasse and the world, its place in literature, perfume uses etc.
Tubéreuse (Polianthes tuberosa, L. (more)) an Amaryllidaceous plant, belonging to the Agave division, and a native of Mexico. Its beautiful white flowers give its name to the genus (polios, white or grey); the single species has a short tuberculous thickened rhizome. The Polianthes was introduced in Europe during last century as an ornamental plant on account of its noble head of odorous flowers, which probably are nowhere else cultivated in such quantity as at Grasse. Already, between 1571 and 1577 it had attracted the attention of the Spanish physician Francisco Hernandez, who undertook the scientific exploration of Mexico at the cost of King Philip. In his "Nova Plantarum, Animalium et Mineralium Mexicanorum Historia," (Rome 1651, p. 27), the indefatigable physician gives a modest but unmistakable figure, with a corresponding description of the beautiful plant, under the name "Omizochitl, seu Flos osseus." He also mentions its use in making odorous wreaths. Upon this point the scanty notice which Clusius gives in 1601 of the "hyacinthus indicus tuberosa radice" in the 'Rariorum Plantarum Historia' is silent. Clusius' figure is not so faithful as the one previously mentioned. Since the time of Clusius the name tuberose has clung to the plant.
--from Henriettes Herbal
The tuberose was a fully domesticated plant in the agave family when 'discovered' by the Conquistadors. Anthropologically, a cultivated plant is any plant intentionally grown, a domesticated plant is one changed by humans. It can no longer exist on its own or will revert to a wild form.
The early history of the tuberose is lost. Called omixochitl [oh me' zu che' tl], the bone flower, it graced the gardens of the Aztecs. The Maya grew tuberoses in their gardens, too. It may even have grown with the Toltec and Olmec before them. A few new varieties have come over the past five centuries, but the 'Mexican single' of the ancients still grows the best.
--from Killer Plants
Aztecs called tuberose omixochitl (bone-flower), referring to its waxy and radiant white blossoms. The tuberose tubers native to Central America were first exported to Philippines and then to the East Indies.(Tuberoses had been imported to the Philippines before Europe, which is why they are sometimes thought of as native to East India.)In 1594, Simon de Tovar, a Seville physician, managed to obtain the plant, which then made its way to France and Italy (Morris 1984, 231). Thus was the inception of the cultivation of the famous Grasse tuberose. While some tuberose is still grown in Grasse, the majority of tuberose absolute is produced in Morocco, India, China, the Comores Islands, Hawaii, and South Africa.
--from Bois de Jasmin
The cultivation of the tuberose in France was described by Jean de la Quintinye, King Louis' the XIV, kitchen gardener in 1690 (Louis XIV placed an order for 10,000 to be grown in the flower beds at Trianon.) Commercial cultivation of tuberose began at the end of the 17th century in Basse-Provence and it was mentioned by Simon Barbe among the flowers then used for perfumery. Le P. d'Ardene also wrote with experience of this cultivation stating the "East Indies gave the tuberose to Italy, who passed it on to us.. Plantations are located near Pegomas, Auribeau, and Mandelieu, in the fertile and lovely valley of the Siagne River, not far from Cannes and Grasse. Formerly up to 75 metric tons of flowers were harvested every year and process by the flower oil manufactures of the Grasse region; recently, however, the quantity has declined substantially . It was 30 tons in 1926, only 17 tons in 1927 and 15 metric tons in 1950..."
According to Mazuyer, the horticultural variety of tuberose exploited in Southern France for the extraction of its perfume is that with single flowers; the double variety usually goes to the cut flower trade. The flowers on the top of the long stalk are grouped in spike-shaped clusters, 15-20 cm. long. The flowering period begins in July, reaching its maximum toward the middle of August, and lasting to the end of September at which time a secondary bloom takes place. The flowers are collected every morning just when they start to open. They are picked by hand, flush with the stal. Great care has to be exercised to select only those flowers which are just starting to open, because fully opened flowers would with and fade during the process of enfleurage(48 hours for each batch!--) and spoil the perfume of the pommade. On the average, 1000 tuberose plants yield 25-30 kilos of flowers per year.
The tuberose is one of those plants the flowers of which continue to develop their natural perfume for some time after they have been harvested. The problem therefore resolves itself into that of capturing the additional quantities of natural flower oils emitted by the flowers after picking and before withering. This was accomplished some years ago by the introduction of the old-fashioned enfleurage process, which to a limited extent is still practiced in the Grasse region.
Today the majority of tuberose essence is extracted with hexane to produce the concrete and the concrete is then converted to absolute. This modern method of extracting the essence of delicate flowers has been dealt with in depth in the article on "Aromatic Absolutes: Their Role in Natural Perfumery."
--from the Fragrant Harvest "Aromatic Absolutes Newsletter"
The use of the exotic essence of Tuberose is restricted to high class perfumery because of its expense.
Here is a brief profile of its characteristics and uses:
Scientific name: Polianthes tuberosa
Plant description:Numerous funnel shaped, waxy, white, 2-1/2" flowers form a terminal spike on top of a leafy, wiry stem. The flowers are very fragrant.
Method of extraction: Native to Central America but cultivated in many countries notably India and France solvent/alcohol extraction to produce concrete/absolute, limited amounts of enfleurage are still produced in France
Phytochemical constituents: Its main constituents are benzyl alcohol and -acetate, methyl and benzyl benzoate, methyl salicylate, methyl anthranilate, eugenol, geraniol and nerol and -acetates, and farnesol, but its power and original effect is due to a multitude of gamma- and delta-lactones, some of them only found in tuberose
Aromatic description: the absolute is a dark brown to dark orange colored viscous liquid(may be solid at cool temperatures) with heavy floral, intensely sweet, heavy and somewhat spicy odor reminiscent of honeysuckle, peru balsam, orange flower absolute, etc
Perfumery Uses: used in high class floral perfumes of the heaviest and sweetest types; frangipani, stephanotis, lilac, heliotrope, gardenia and in heavy Oriental types as well as fantasy perfumes
Blends well with: blends well with frangipani abs, bakul abs, orange blossom abs, jasmin abs, ylang abs,, vanilla co2, osmanthus abs, kewda attar and ruh, jonquil abs, narcissus abs, coriander seed eo, orris root co2,, baronia abs, cassie ab, elder flower abs, aglaia odorata abs
Perfumes in which the Tuberose "theme" appears:
Tuberose soliflores: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, Caron Tubéreuse, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Tubéreuse, L’artisan Parfumeur Tubéreuse, Annick Goutal Tubéreuse, Santa Maria Novella Tuberosa.
Perfumes dominated by tuberose: Robert Piquet Fracas, Chanel Gardénia, Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle, Guerlain Mahora, Chloé, Christian Dior Poison, Givenchy Amarige, White Shoulders, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Jardin Blanc, L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons, Parfums de Nicolaï Number One, Les Parfums de Rosine Mea Culpa, Creed Tubereuse Indiana, Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion.
Additional fragrances containing tuberose: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Jean Patou Joy, Balmain Jolie Madame, Hermès Amazone, Lancôme Magie Noire, Caron Nocturnes, Givenchy Organza, Rochas Poupee, Lanvin Arpège.
--from Bois de Jasmin
Tuberose in Literature
Here I was interrupted again, and required to go down and confer furtherwith that lightning-rod man. I hurried off, boiling and surging with prodigious thoughts wombed in words of such majesty that each one of them was in itself a straggling procession of syllables that might be fifteen minutes passing a given point, and once more I confronted him--he so calm and sweet, I so hot and frenzied. He was standing in the contemplative attitude of the Colossus of Rhodes, with one foot on my infant tuberose, and the other among my pansies, his hands on his hips, his hat-brim tilted forward, one eye shut and the other gazing critically and admiringly in the direction of my principal chimney.
-- Sketches New and Old, Complete
by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Soon the bridegroom arrived - a smart young officer, well thought of at Scotland Yard, well set up, wearing a long tail coat a lilac and white tie, and shaking in every limb. He walked up the aisle accompanied by the best man, and the little old gentleman from Australia watched him genially from behind those gold-rimmed glasses. And, then, scarcely was he at the altar rails when through the open church door one heard the sounds of horses' feet, one heard a rustle, the murmur of voices, caught a glimpse of a waiting group arranging themselves finally in the porch of the church. Maud, on the arm of her father, came slowly up the aisle. The little old gentleman turned his head as though this was something upon which he feared to look. He saw nothing of Mr. Barnes, in a new coat, with tuberose and spray of maidenhair in his coat, and exceedingly tight patent leather boots on his feet; he saw nothing of Mrs. Barnes, clad in a gown of the lightest magenta, with a bonnet smothered with violets.
Peter Ruff and the Double Four
Yes, it is curious how certain flowers suggest certain painters-the perfume of the incarnation, Leonardo; that of the rose, Titian; the tuberose, Crivelli --
--The Fulness Of Life
by Edith Wharton
So would some tuberose delight,
That struck the pilgrim's wondering sight
'Mid lonely deserts drear;
All as at eve, the sovereign flower
Dispenses round its balmy power,
And crowns the fragrant year.
by William Shenstone
In the hotel at Salisbury we struck a strange outfit. It was a party of four, an elderly man, a youngish man, and two women. The older man looked a little over fifty, a heavily built fellow, with a square face and a cavalry moustache and a loud laugh. I should have taken him for a soldier but for the slouch of his shoulders, which suggested a sedentary life. He spoke like an educated Englishman — a Londoner, I guessed, for he had that indefinable clipping and blurring of his words which is the mark of the true metropolitan. The younger man was an American from his accent, and at the first glance I disliked him. He was the faux bonbomme, if I knew the breed, always grinning and pawing the man he spoke to, but with cold, cunning grey eyes that never smiled. We were not a dressy lot in Rhodesia, and the clothes of these two cried out like a tuberose in a cottage window. They wore the most smartly cut flannels, and soft linen collars, which were then a novelty, and they had wonderful buckskin shoes. The cut of their jib was not exactly loud, but it was exotic, though no doubt it would have been all right at Bournemouth. Even Lombard, who was always neat in his dress, looked shabby by contrast.
he Island of Sheep (1936)
Part one, chapter four
by John Buchan
The trunks being now ready, he departed after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.
-- A Tramp Abroad
by Mark Twain
The woman reeked of the city. I hope you know what I mean. She bore the stamp, and seal, and imprint of it. It had ground its heel down on her face. At the front of her coat she wore a huge bunch of violets, with a fleshly tuberose rising from its center. Her furs were voluminous. Her hat was hidden beneath the cascades of a green willow plume. A green willow plume would make Edna May look sophisticated. She walked with that humping hip movement which city women acquire. She carried a jangling handful of useless gold trinkets. Her heels were too high, and her hair too yellow, and her lips too red, and her nose too white, and her cheeks too pink. Everything about her was "too," from the black stitching on her white gloves to the buckle of brilliants in her hat. The city had her, body and soul, and had fashioned her in its metallic cast. You would have sworn that she had never seen flowers growing in a field.
-- That Home-Town Feeling
by Edna Ferber
A waxen Virgin hovers in the gloom
Lit with red gems and candles, and the fume
Of agate clouds of incense; heavy sighs
Hang listless in the air, and upturned eyes
Are straining for the brazen trump of doom.
The monks are waiting yet for Christ to come.
On Carmel mountain they have made their home,
Over the shore where the wan ocean dies.
To beautify His coming roses bloom,
And tuberoses, and yellow Spanish broom,
And in the chapel singing voices rise;
But Christ has come, and gone again, and wise
Were they who kissed His feet and saw Him home.
The Carmel Monks
As we drove through the town we could only see our immediate surroundings, but each had a new fascination. We drove along roads with over-arching trees, through whose dense leafage the noon sunshine only trickled in dancing, broken lights; umbrella trees, caoutchouc, bamboo, mango, orange, breadfruit, candlenut, monkey pod, date and coco palms, alligator pears, “prides” of Barbary, India, and Peru, and huge-leaved, wide-spreading trees, exotics from the South Seas, many of them rich in parasitic ferns, and others blazing with bright, fantastic blossoms. The air was heavy with odours of gardenia, tuberose, oleanders, roses, lilies, and the great white trumpet-flower, and myriads of others whose names I do not know, and verandahs were festooned with a gorgeous trailer with magenta blossoms, passion-flowers, and a vine with masses of trumpet-shaped, yellow, waxy flowers. The delicate tamarind and the feathery algaroba intermingled their fragile grace with the dark, shiny foliage of the South Sea exotics, and the deep red, solitary flowers of the hibiscus rioted among dear familiar fuschias and geraniums, which here attain the height and size of large rhododendrons.
-- The Hawaiian Archipelago
by Isabella L. Bird
'I think you have seen my garden-house. In front of it is the garden, at the foot of which the river Ganges flows. Towards the south, just below our bedroom, my wife had made a garden according to her own fancy, and surrounded it with a hedge of henna. It was the one bit of the garden that was simple and unpretentious. In the flower-pots you did not see wooden pegs with long Latin names flying pretentious flags by the side of the most unpretentious-looking plants. Jasmine, tuberose, lemon flowers, and all kinds of roses were plentiful. Under a large bokul tree there was a white marble slab, which my wife used to wash twice a day when she was in good health. It was the place where she was in the habit of sitting on summer evenings, when her work was finished. From there she could see the river, but was herself invisible to the travellers on the passing steamers.
-- Broken Ties and other Stories
by Rabindranath Tagore
We were nine persons in all--seven men and two women, one of the latter a native. Besides us, there were in the room, the young tiger, intensely occupied on a bone; a wanderoo, or lion-monkey, which, with its black coat and snow-white goatee and whiskers, and cunning, sparkling eyes, looked the personification of mischief; and a beautiful golden oriole, quietly cleaning its radiant-colored tail on a perch, placed near a large window of the veranda. In India, "spiritual" seances are not held in the dark, as in America; and no conditions, but perfect silence and harmony, are required. It was in the full glare of daylight streaming through the opened doors and windows, with a far-away buzz of life from the neighboring forests, and jungles sending us the echo of myriads of insects, birds, and animals. We sat in the midst of a garden in which the house was built, and instead of breathing the stifling atmosphere of a seance-room, we were amid the fire-colored clusters of the erythrina--the coral tree--inhaling the fragrant aromas of trees and shrubs, and the flowers of the bignonia, whose white blossoms trembled in the soft breeze. In short, we were surrounded with light, harmony, and perfumes. Large nosegays of flowers and shrubs, sacred to the native gods, were gathered for the purpose, and brought into the rooms. We had the sweet basil, the Vishnu-flower, without which no religious ceremony in Bengal will ever take place; and the branches of the Ficus religiosa, the tree dedicated to the same bright deity, intermingling their leaves with the rosy blossoms of the sacred lotos and the Indian tuberose, profusely ornamented the walls.
by H.P. Blavatsky
Other Interesting Notes Regarding Tuberose
*Its East Indian name, Ratkirani, translates to "Queen of the Night". In Singapore it is called Xinxiao which means "that on which the moth rests". In Persian, it is called "Maryam" and is a popular name for girls. The tuberose is also used traditionally in Hawaii to produce bridal Leis and was considered a funeral flower in Victorian times. Its scent is described as a complex, exotic, sweet, floral.
* Rajanigandha or Tuberose (in English) means "The Fragrance of the Night" in Sanskrit, Bengali, Hindi...
* The Flowers of this plant blossom in the night and should you happen to pass by this plant in the night you will be engulfed by its sweet smell.
* The sweet smell is also there in the morning. However that is the time when it is used less.
It is a unique flower - possibly the one which is used in every sphere of the Indian - Hindu life.
The flowers are also used to make the garland which is used during the marriage ceremony.
The flower has been used for centuries in India to adorn the Woman. To adorn her neck as a garland, her ears as the ear rings her limbs as bangles.
It is also used by the men when they would go out romancing and they would usually hold a small garland in their hands as a sign of an appreciator of beauty.
It is also used to make a small bouquet which may be presented by people when they visit each other...
Most apply therefore these are the same flowers that are used to create a wreath for the departed soul.
* The magical history of the floral lei dates back to the ancient Hawaiians who wore braided leaves, native flowers, shells, feathers, stones and bones to beautify themselves. They also offered these hand-made garlands to each other and to their gods as a symbol of love and friendship. The lei was treasured and worn with pride by people of every age. During the Boat Days of the late 1800's, the popularity of the lei grew as visitors who arrived by ship were greeted with aloha and presented with a floral leis. Legends grew around the luck of the lei. It was said if a departing visitor tossed their lei into the ocean and it floated back to the beach, it meant that the person would someday return to the islands. Hundreds of leis could be seen floating in the crystal waters off of Diamond Head as a ship steamed away. Today, the ancient tradition continues. The tender and beautiful lei is still carefully made by hand - weaving fragrant and colorful flowers and leaves together to create a work of art. Leis are worn on all special occasions and given to family and friends as gifts of love. The lei is a symbol of Hawaii. Tuberose is one of the most popular flowers for lei making
Tuberose Dawn Perfume
Tuberose as a pure absolute is incredibly powerful and even if one were to create a single note perfume with it a dilution of 5% in a carrier base would be sufficiently concentrated to produce a lovely essence.
There are numerous absolutes and essential oils that interact well with this exotic essence and I decided to blend a few of them together to capture the magic of early morning harvest of the pure white blossoms of this majestic flower.
There is a delightful softness and elegance in the early morning air in the warmer climates where such flowers as tuberose can be cultivated on a commercial scale. I am most familiar with that experience in India as I often had the chance to be about at that time either working in the fields myself as happened from 1971-1976 or watching others do so as later occurred when the Fragrant Harvest Project began. I can well imagine that the same atmosphere existed in the fragrant fields of Grasse.
At that time all that is peaceful and benign seems to commingle with the rich odors wafting upon the air. Often soft caressing breezes move around one as they stoop to their labor. The sounds that come to one are like a delicate symphony as insect, humans and animals begin a new days work. The simple act of working with ones body, interacting with all that is around one in a direct way is calming and fulfilling. At that time one connects themselves with countless generations of people around the world who have worked in harmony with nature.
I chose the tonka bean absolute and vanilla co2 extract to soften, sweeten and round out the exotic intensity of the tuberose absolute and hydrodistilled essence. The tuberose attar contributes a good deal of sandalwood which always works well with costly essences. The Patchouli Heart Note Essential oil with its rich herbaceous notes also seems to work well with the overall blend. Just a tiny touch of galbanum co2 was added in the end to impart a faintly perceptible green resinous note that captures a bit of the smell that exudes from the freshly crushed stems of the plant.
1/8th ounce Tuberose Absolute
1/16th ounce Tuberose Hydrodistilled Essence
1 ounce Tuberose Attar
1/4th Tonka Bean Absolute
1/4th ounce Vanilla Bean CO2
1 ounce Patchouli Heart Note Essential oil
1/32nd ounce of Galbanum co2