Three years ago, I reviewed Gucci Bloom. What caught my attention most were these lines from Gucci’s description of the perfume...
Tuberose and jasmine combine with Rangoon Creeper — a unique flower discovered in South India that is being used for the first time in perfumery…the slightly powdery floral scent is captured (via headspace technology) as the flower blooms….
I wondered: why don’t I know about Rangoon creeper?
Before my Bloom review posted, I’d ordered three Rangoon creeper plants from Florida. Two plants died (Seattle is NOT Florida-like in its climate) but one strong plant survived and bloomed for the first time this summer – in fact, it’s blooming in my living room as I write this. I’m patient; in the world of gardening, three years is but a second.
Rangoon creeper puzzled European horticulturists who first encountered the plants in their native environments (Malaysia, Philippines and India). Where did it fit in the scheme of botany? What were its relatives? The plant was given a sad/funny name: Quisqualis indica, which means something on the order of “Who? What? of India”). The plant perplexed its admirers (perhaps) because they were seeing it in different stages of growth. In youth, Rangoon creeper looks like a shrub or small tree. As it matures, it becomes a spreading woody vine that can reach 26 feet! It can have thorns, or not, depending on its age. Its fruit tastes of almonds and the flowers are unusual in that they turn from white (to attract night pollinators), to pink, to deep red (better to attract day-drinkers).
These days, Rangoon creeper is called Combretum indicum (classified as a type genus of the Combretaceae family). The genus comprises about 370 species of plants, 300 of which are native to tropical and southern Africa, about five to Madagascar, some 25 to tropical Asia and approximately 40 to tropical America.*
Now to the scent of the flowers. Gucci says the aroma is “powdery”…other plant sites describe the scent as “toasted coconut,” “fruity,” “sweet, nighttime fragrance” or simply “perfumed.” I had no idea what to expect. (Most gardeners, it seems, are terrible at describing scent.)
My Rangoon creeper blossoms smell “appetizing.” Often, when I wake up from a nap near the blooming plant, I think: “Who’s cooking?” The first scent impression is of ripe, pink guava. The guava is not fresh/raw, but being warmed in a saucepan with some sugar. I love to make jams and jellies and often notice some fresh fruits smell musky and herbal/green (blackberries, guava, currants). Rangoon creeper’s next aromas are surprising: chive and butter. Imagine a compote of guava cooked in sugar and butter, sprinkled with some chives. Rangoon creeper has one of the most unusual scents of any flower I’ve encountered and there's no aspect of Gucci Bloom that smells like the real flowers.
As I read online gardeners’ notes on Rangoon creeper, many noted that its leaves smelled terrible and kept deer at bay. I crushed a leaf and loved the aroma: a combination of tomato leaf and cut, tender/young grass. Take all the scented elements of Rangoon creeper, combine them and they’d make an interesting perfume. If I have the chance I’ll smell the roots too when it’s time for repotting. (My Rangoon creeper is "on wheels" and goes in and out of the house more often than a pet dog.)
Experiencing Rangoon creeper has been a pleasure for me and since I could not share it with human friends due to lock-down conditions, I hope the local hummingbirds got to enjoy its rare appearance (and flavor) this summer.
Note: photos by the author.