Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sweet smell of the fall - Kinmokusei (金木犀)

There aren't a lot of smells that I clearly/fondly remember, but there is one that I miss from Japan. That is the aroma of the 金木犀 tree; in English, sweet olive. I don't recall seeing or smelling them in Tokyo, but in Hyogo every autumn the orange flower clusters would blossom release their fragrance. Unknowingly I came to associate this fragrance with "fall."

I remember asking one of the JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) that I worked with about the trees and what they were called, and he told me they were「きんもくせい」. He then wrote some characters on the blackboard behind us as told me that these were its kanji: 「金目生」.  When I looked it up later, turned out he was wrong. Strange!

Lately I've been thinking about buying one, if I can find the right variety. There are different kinds of sweet olive, and the ones in Japan are aurantiacus. According to my research, a lot of the sweet olive trees from China bloom year-round but aren't as fragrant as the kind that only does so seasonally.

I've found a few vendors online that carry them, but they appear to be the white-flowered, original Chinese version. Hoping I can find the J-variety.

Update: Found it (Nurseries Carolininia)!

Update: Bought a Japanese one and a Chinese one, so I can compare. Also it seems the Japanese variety won't bloom until it grows to about 4', which could take a while, whereas the Chinese kind blossoms from around 6".

Update 10/22/2014: Has it really been two years since I bought these things? Unfortunately they don't seem to have grown very much, probably due to last year's severe winter. The late cold snaps couldn't have helped much. I don't think I'll be smelling that sweet fragrance for a while yet, but I still hunger for it! Remembering those early, mild Japanese autumns really takes me back. Fond memories, indeed. Some mornings I can practically smell the blossoms... Is there such a thing as a phantom smell, I wonder?

The little Japanese tree.
 Last year the Japanese one wasn't look too hot. He had to be trimmed a little bit, so now he's a little shorter. Still, that's some nice leafage coming in now.

The Chinese variety seems a little more vigorous.
The Chinese guy is doing well, too - even better than the Japanese one. I think that's because the Chinese one is closer to the house and thus less exposed to the cold wind in the winter. Hopefully not too many more years before these things start to bloom!

This post is part of the 2014's J-Bloggers' Carnival #3 (link live after 11/1), hosted by Sophelia. Be sure to check out the other entries!


  1. The hedge at our house is this plant... I assumed it was just a boring evergreen until one day without warning thousands of orange flower appeared and then after only a few days they all fell leaving an orange carpet over the pavement. It really is such a autumnal scent, I hope your plants take off!

  2. How interesting. I don't think I've experienced this smell (I live in Japan). I can't think of a smell that I associate with fall, either. I haven't seen these trees, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for them, now!

    Sorry if this message gets posted twice - my computer was being a bit weird.