This tree is probably best known for its very fragrant flowers, from which several essential oils are distilled, and from which several perfumes are made—the most notable being Chanel No. 5.
The flowers are rather strange-looking, compared to most flowers. There are 6 “petals” per flower. Actually, 3 are sepals that resemble the petals they enclose when the floral bud has not opened. These, together with the 3 true petals, are called “tepals”. They are typically yellow in color and are about 2 inches long, being about 3/8 inch wide at the flower center and gradually tapering to a point. When the flowers first open they resemble a 6-pointed star, but the tepals gradually lose their turgidity, becoming somewhat coiled and flaccid with age.
If pollination occurs, a cluster of shiny, oval, black drupes each about as big as an olive is produced, and these serve as an important component in the diet of certain bird species in southeast Asia. The oils distilled from the tepals are also used in aromatherapy and in certain medicinal applications. The fragrance of the flowers is most intense at night.
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