Ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata)

Description and Characteristics

Ilang-ilang, also spelled Ylang-ylang, is a medium-sized tree growing up to 10 to 30 meters. Its young bark is usually smooth, light to dark brown in color and it becomes rough, greyish or silvery as it matures. Its wood is easy to work, soft and highly perishable. Ilang-ilang branches are hanging down loosely with drooping twigs. Attached in an entire twig are dark green leaves measuring up to 20 centimeters that are arranged alternately. Ilang-ilang is well-known for its star-shaped fragrant yellow flowers which grow in clusters of four to twelve flowers. They hang from a twig and each flower has three sepals and six petals. Young flowers are greenish yellow and seemingly closing towards the center then turn deep yellow and drooping when mature. The oil extracted from Ilang-ilang flowers is very fragrant and contains vast medicinal properties. Several fruits develop from each flower. The olive-like fruits are 1.5 to 2 centimeters in length, in axillary clusters, fleshy, and with six to 12 seeds in each fruit. Fruits turn from green to black as they ripen. Ilang-ilang is being propagated through seeds and stem cutting and known as a fast-growing tree. Each tree can be productive for 25 years and can yield up to three kilos of flowers a week all-year round.

Different parts of lang-ilang. Photo and copyright: Harley I. Manner and Craig R. Elevitch | Cananga odorata (ylang-ylang) |

Location and Sources

This species is naturally found in wilderness that’s why it is commonly known as Ilang-ilang since “Ilang” in Tagalog means “wilderness”. Moreover, studies show that it grows best in full sunlight and thrives in rich volcanic or fertile sandy soils. In the Philippines, Anao, Tarlac is considered the Ilang-ilang capital of the country though it can also be found abundant in Pangasinan. Ilang-ilang is endemic to the Philippines and is being propagated throughout the country mostly for ornamental purposes.

Application and Product Output

The bark, wood, and flowers are the most essential parts when it comes to the economical and medicinal application of Ilang-ilang. Its light wood is ideal as canoe parts, or even made into small canoe.  It is also made into furniture, cordage, boxes, and simply as a fuel wood. On the other hand, the bark is known to contain various medicinal properties. Bark decoction can be used for rheumatism, ophthalmic, ulcers and fevers. It is also used as laxative and treatment to gout. In some countries like Indonesia, the barks are beaten and dried to produce fibers that are used in making ropes, bags, trays, and other similar products.


Ilang-ilang bag. Photo and copyright: Vithithi Handmade |
The Best Ylang-ylang Perfume by Global Blue. Photo and copyright: Global Blue |

Having that vibrant appeal and pleasant aroma, fresh Ilang-ilang flowers are often used in making lei and headdresses. Besides, in some places in Luzon, locals are making Ilang-ilang flowers into garlands then selling them in public places like parks. On a bigger scale, these flowers are being processed for its world-renown oil. The most important commercial product of Ilang-ilang is the distilled oil used in medicine, cosmetic, and perfume industry, much of which is shipped to France. It is said that Ilang-ilang oil is one of the basis of some major brands like Chanel #5 and Guerlain. This oil is an ideal ingredient for both men and women perfumes since it has a pleasant floral scent that’s delicate and powerful. Ilang-ilang oil is also branded for its aromatherapy applications since it has properties like antidepressant, hypotensive, and sedative. It is known to soothe feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, tension, and sleeplessness promoting positive feelings of cheerfulness and optimism. With that being said, various products are made out of this oil including candles, diffusers, essential oils, etc. It is also regarded as an aphrodisiac, meaning, its scent arouses sexual instinct that’s why it is present in some Asian wedding ceremonies and are laid out in matrimonial beds. It also has antiseptic property making it perfect in making soaps, sanitizers, and sprays. Furthermore, it helps in balancing and regulating oil production in the skin and hair to prevent excessive dryness and oiliness, soothes inflammation and irritation, and addresses acne as well as hair loss, that’s why it can also be found as ingredient in cosmetics such as hair care products, creams, lotions, and body wash.

The distilled oils are sometimes used to flavor beverages and foods but only in regulated amounts as this can be poisonous if taken excessively. As for the fruits, it serves as food for small mammals such as bats, monkeys and birds but with no commercial application so far.

Different Ilang-ilang products including candle, hand sanitizer, perfurmes, essential oils, diffusers, mosquito repellent spray, and car freshener. Photo and copyright: Municipality of Anao, Province of Tarlac website |

Production and Sustainable Consumption

The use and application of Ilang-ilang is established and recognized locally and worldwide so there’s no doubt the demand for Ilang-ilang is high. So far, only Tarlac and Pangasinan are known to cater bigger scale productions of oil from Ilang-ilang. And unfortunately, their supply is insufficient for the demand especially for export because although Ilang-ilang is endemic to the Philippines, they are usually scattered in small numbers throughout the country and are oftentimes used for ornamental purposes only and not for commercial use. There’s no scarcity of Ilang-ilang but commercially speaking, the country is yet to suffice the need for global demand. Seeing this potential in the global market, the local government remains positive that in a few years they’ll be able to deliver. Besides, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and an independent organization called Korean Intellectual Property Office of South Korea have helped them by providing equipment/machines to improve the production capacity of Tarlac. In two towns in Pangasinan, on the other hand, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated last 2015 the propagation and nursery of Ilang-ilang plants with the goal to flourish its industry in the coming years.

Photo and copyright: (LEFT)  Maritn San Diego/NPVB | IRONWULF Stories of Places, People, and Photography in the Philippines and Beyond,; (RIGHT) Eva Visperas | The Philippine Star,

Supported by the Connections Through Culture programme of the British Council, our Materials Library Expansion Project is the first collaboration between UNESCO Creative Cities of Design #Cebu and #Dundee#MATIC #CreativeDundee #BritishCouncilPh #BritishCouncilCTC

Works Cited

“Health benefits of Ylang Ylang – Cananga odorata”. Health Benefits, Accessed 5 February 2021.

“Ylang Ylang: Benefits, Varieties & Uses”. New Directions Aromatics, 27 Mar. 2018, Accessed 5 February 2021.

Decena, Ferdz. “Ylang-ylang Essential Oil of Anao, Tarlac”. IRONWULF Stories of Places, People, and Photography in the Philippines and Beyond, Accessed 5 February 2021.

Elevitch, Craig, Manner, Harley. “Cananga odorata (ylang-ylang)”. Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry, ver. 2.1, Apr. 2006, Accessed 5 February 2021.

Philippines News Agency. “Ilang-ilang plantation in 2 Pangasinan towns”. Science for every juan, 8 Mar 2015, Accessed 5 February 2021.

Stuart, Godofredo, Jr. “Ilang-ilang”. StuartXchange, Accessed 5 February 2021.

Visperas, Eva. “Ylang-ylang to boost farm tourism”. The Philippine Star, 28 Dec. 2017, Accessed 5 February 2021.


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