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Climbing Ylang-ylangs

April 26, 2010

A most popular garden ornamental in Chiang Mai is Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata, Annonaceae). It is a native monsoon tree which you can see in the nearby national parks, or here at Dokmai Garden. There is a dwarf variety too (var. fruticosa), suitable for a small garden. While the forest variety (var. odorata) grows into a tree, the dwarf stays a shrub, frequently in blossom. If you have been to a Thai spa, I am sure you have used fragrant oils with Ylang-Ylang.

The Ylang-Ylang has climbing relatives, all of them referred to as “Climbing Ylang-Ylangs”. However, since so many species share this trivial name, there is a total confusion among gardeners. Some gardeners proudly show their vigorous climbers with totally amazing banana-scented yellow flowers (and edible red berries), while other gardeners who  thought they bought the same plant, struggle with a bush that reluctantly grows upwards, and only if you put an effort into supporting it. My absolute favourite is Artabotrys siamensis, a species you can see as shade-vines at the Bangkok bus stops. It gracefully trails up an arbour without effort, and seems to be in constant blossom, with a perfume so strong that I can feel it 10 meters away behind a house. Its more clumsy cousin, A. hexapetalus, has more than 2 flowers in a cluster, generally attached to the hook-like structures the vine uses for mountaineering. A. siamensis has only 1-2 flowers per cluster/hook. As most downtown dealers do not care about scientific names, and may use the same vernacular name for a whole genus of plants (or ten different names for the same species), it is a gamble if you get the right species or not, as young cuttings without flowers can be hard to distinguish. At Dokmai Garden we currently work towards offering you plants labelled with correct scientific names, guaranteeing the qualities of a plant.

Eric Danell

Artabotrys siamensis is an evergreen Thai climber, with enchanting fragrance and agile skills.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Pohl permalink
    June 23, 2012 8:42 AM

    Could the ylang ylang tree grow in San Francisco? Where would it be available and how should it be planted?

    • June 26, 2012 4:46 PM

      Dear Harold,

      Growing ylang-ylang seems only possible if you have a frost free environment, unless there are new cultivars selected for cooler climate. Since I am located in Thailand I am not aware of vendors in California and so I forward your question to our American readers…

      Good luck!


  2. Danielle permalink
    October 21, 2013 11:29 AM

    I recently traveled to Thailand and spent a few nights at the legendha sukothai hotel. They had the most amazing smelling ylang ylang vine which I believe to be the artabotrys siamensis. I wanted to purchase one but wanted to make sure I was getting the correct type, is there anyway that you may know or be familiar with the species they have in their courtyard? I haven’t been able to contact them to know for sure. Thanks

    • October 22, 2013 5:56 PM

      I do not know which species they have, but if you like it then buy it. If you wish to buy another specimen in another country ask for A. siamensis. The fragrances of the two species are identical to me, while growth habits are different.

      Cheers, Eric

  3. Eny permalink
    December 2, 2015 4:23 PM

    hello Eric, could you please elaborate their growth habit difference.

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