Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hook. f. & Thomson
by Mrs. Aziemah Binti Kinan, Ms. Fatin Qurratul 'ain Binti Saberam & Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli
Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hook. f. & Thomson
by Mrs. Aziemah Binti Kinan, Ms. Fatin Qurratul 'ain Binti Saberam & Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli

Cananga odorata, commonly known as Ylang-ylang in English, belongs to the Annonaceae or custard-apple family, and is well-known for its fragrant flowers. In Malay, it is known as Kenanga or Kenanga hutan. Presently, the genus Cananga consists of two species, namely, Cananga odorata and Cananga brandisiana (Plants of the World Online: Kew Science). The genus name Cananga is derived from the Malay vernacular name ‘Kenanga’ (Turner & Veldkamp, 2009), whereas the species name odorata is derived from the Latin word, which means fragrant or sweet-scented.

The flower of C. odorata has three sepals and six petals up to 8 cm long. The petals are twisted when young, turning limp and drooping when mature. There is a dwarf form of C. odorata called C. odorata var. fruticosa which grows to only 1.5 m in height. This plant with very curly-petaled flowers is often seen in tropical gardens. It flowers all year round but never produces fruits (Manner & Elevitch, 2006). Within the custard-apple family the common name Ylang-ylang also refers to Artabotrys hexapetalus, an evergreen climbing shrub from India. The flower of this plant is also fragrant and greenish-yellow to yellowish-brown in colour when mature, which is similar to C. odorata. However, its flowers are unattractive and smaller in size, with six non-twisted petals.

Generally, C. odorata is a medium-sized evergreen tree that grows up to 30 m in height and has a fast growth rate of more than 2 m per year in its early years. It has long drooping, leafy twigs dangling 3-6 m and the bark is greyish white to silvery and smooth. The leaves are dark shiny green, simple, alternate, and ovate-oblong shaped (Adnan et al., 2018). The flowers are pollinated by nocturnal moths and relatively small beetles from the families Curculionieae, Nitidulidaea, and Chrysomelidae. The distinctive aggregate fruits are greenish-black, olive like, 8−15 individually stalked, and turn from dark green to black when ripened. Small mammals such as monkeys, bats, squirrels, and frugivorous birds are known to eat the fruits and disperse the small hard seeds (Parrotta, 2014). The seeds are pale brown, flattened, ellipsoid, smooth, and irregularly pitted.

Commercially, essential oils extracted from the flowers of C. odorata are used in beauty products such as perfumes, soaps, shampoos, and hair oils (Parotta, 2014). The essential oils from the tree have also been reported to be one of the ingredients used in natural insect repellent products as has been demonstrated in studies against several mosquito species (Tan et al., 2015). In Malaysia, the tree is used as an ornamental plant in streets, parks, or large gardens as its very pleasant fragrance makes it appropriate in landscaping. In Borneo, the dried flowers of C. odorata are worn in women's hair and also placed between clothes due to its fragrant scent (Parotta, 2014).

Cananga odorata is widely distributed from Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, to the Solomon Islands (IUCN, 2019). In Malaysia, it generally grows wild on forest edges in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia to Negeri Sembilan (Ong, 2004). This species is frequently found in Sabah but is much rarer in Sarawak. It inhabits lowland forest, both primary and secondary up to 200 m altitude (Turner et al., 2014). Ylang-ylang is a light-demanding species; it needs a hot and wet climate, well-drained fertile sandy loam soils, preferably a rich volcanic soil, and protection from strong winds (Manner & Elevitch, 2006).

Globally, C. odorata is considered as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List (2019) as it currently faces no significant or major threats. In the Malaysia Plant Red List Book it is listed as Not Evaluated for Malaysia (Chua et al., 2010).


  1. Adnan, M., Zainuddin, A.F., Hamzah, M.A., Moorthy, M. & Mohamad Zaki, M.I. (2018). Koleksi Pokok Taman Botani Kepong. Institut Penyelidikan Perhutanan Malaysia (FRIM), Malaysia. pp. 1-234.
  2. Chua, L.S.L., Suhaida, M., Hamidah, M. & Saw, L.G. (2010). Malaysia Plant Red List: Peninsular Malaysian Dipterocarpaceae. Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) & Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Malaysia, Malaysia. pp. 73, 146.
  3. IUCN SSC Global Tree Specialist Group & Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). (2019). Cananga odorata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T61984545A156221485. Retrieved December 03, 2020, from
  4. Manner, H.I. & Elevitch, C.R. (2006). Cananga odorata (ylang-ylang). Species profiles for Pacific Island agroforestry. , 199-208.
  5. Ong, H.C. (2004). Tumbuhan Liar: Khasiat & Kegunaan Lain. Utusan Publications & Distribution Sdn. Bhd., Malaysia. pp. 241.
  6. Parrotta, J.A. (2014). Cananga odorata. In Roloff, A., Weisgerber, H., Lang, U.M., Stimm, B. & Schutt, P. (Eds.), Enzyklopädie der Holzgewächse: Handbuch und Atlas der Dendrologie. Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. pp. 1-8.
  7. Plants of the World Online: Kew Science. (2017). Cananga odorata. Papadakis Publisher. Retrieved December 09, 2020, from
  8. Tan, L.T., Lee, H.L., Yin, W.F., Chan, C.K., Abdul Kadir, H., Chan, K.G. & Goh, B.H. (2015). Traditional uses, phytochemistry, and bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 30.
  9. Turner, I.M. & Veldkamp, J.F. (2009). A history of Cananga (Annonaceae). Gardens' Bulletin Singapore 61 (1), 189-204. http:///
  10. Turner, I.M., Weerasooriya, A.D., Saunders, R.M.K. & Ganesan, S.K. (2014). Annonaceae. In Soepadmo, E., Saw, L.G., Chung, R.C.K. & Kiew, R. (Eds.), Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak, Volume 8. Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM). pp. 1-200.
QR Code
Scan QR code for mobile experience

Other articles

Sonerila griffithii C.B.Clarke (Melastomataceae)

Dr. Avelinah Julius   •   31 Jan 2024   •   261 views

Meistera lappacea (Ridl.) Škorničk. & M.F.Newman (Zingiberaceae)

Siti Eisya Nabiha Damahuri & Dr. Avelinah Julius   •   31 Dec 2023   •   555 views

Ploiarium alternifolium (Bonnetiaceae)

Mrs. Syazwani Bt. Azeman   •   15 Dec 2023   •   919 views

Phaenicophaeus curvirostris (Shaw, 1810)

Nurfahana Binti Mo`in & Ms. Nur Aina Amira Binti Mahyudin   •   30 Nov 2023   •   920 views

Chrysopelea paradisi (Boie, 1827)

Ms. Noor Faradiana Binti Md Fauzi & Mr. Mohammad Shahfiz Azman   •   15 Nov 2023   •   1686 views
Get updates and an exclusive news when you sign up to our free newsletter.
Malaysia Biodiversity Information System (MyBIS)   by   Malaysia Biodiversity Centre (MBC)

Copyright © 2024, Malaysia Biodiversity Centre (MBC), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability (NRES). All rights reserved. DISCLAIMER - The Malaysian Government, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability (NRES), Malaysia Biodiversity Centre (MBC) and Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) shall not be liable for any loss or damage caused by the usage of any information obtained from this website. By entering this site, you acknowledge and agree that no portion of this site, including but not limited to names, logos, trademarks, patents, sound, graphics, charts, text, audio, video, information or images are either MyBIS property or the property permitted by third-party and shall not be used without prior written approval from the owner(s).
Best viewed using latest Mozila Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 10 with Resolution 1024 x 768px or above. Version 2.0 / 2016
Website Citation: MyBIS (2024). Malaysia Biodiversity Information System. Published on the Internet, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability, Malaysia Biodiversity Centre & Forest Research Institute Malaysia. [Retrieved 21 February 2024].