Because the fragrance of your deeds,
Has sweetened a sad soul’s doom,
And ministered to many needs,
I send you Boronia blooms. Ella McFadyen 1906
I confess there is an element of nostalgia in my love of the tiny brown cups of fragrant Boronia megastigma. I grew up in Tasmania, where these West Australian natives are widely grown. In the fifties and sixties my grandmother would venture forth to the Methodist Ladies Guild looking ever so stately in her feather trimmed hat, soft kid gloves, and a generous bunch of boronia pinned to her bosom.
In 1922 Englishwoman Marion Cran wrote about a visit to Australia during which she found herself sitting with a lapful of native flower and wrote
There was also a handful of tiny brown blooms….called, I think ‘Boronia’ or ‘Veronia’, at the sight of which every eye in the party took on that look of reverent sentiment which we in England accord to violets. And for the same reason I surmise, for the tiny unassuming flowers filled the air with a sweet and lingering fragrance.’
The fragrance Marian Cran mentioned is an intoxicating blend of spice and citrus. Some say it resembles a blend of freesia and osmanthus, but to me the perfume is unique and incomparable. Oddly enough there are some people who are incapable of smelling boronia perfume…thank goodness I am not one of them! Another odd characteristic is that if you smell the flowers at close range you may not catch the fragrance. But walk on by and and it will be carried to you on the air.
A company called Essential Oils of Tasmania describes the fragrance like this;
Boronias will steal your heart, but just as easily break it. Their life-span is short; shorter still if they do not have exactly the right conditions. I was touched to discover that they were named to honour an 18th century Italian botanist, whose life was correspondingly brief. Francesco Borone died after falling from a window in Athens at the tender age of twenty five.
The young man had been born in humble circumstances. Originally a domestic servant to the famous British botanist Sir James Smith, he rose to become Sir James’ valued assistant.
Tasmania saw the commercial possibilities of a native species, Boronia citriodora, as early as 1925.
A piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 4 read as follows; ‘The richest source of citronellol…has been found in the essential oil obtained from the sweet-scented boronia of Tasmania, according to a paper read by Mr. A.R. Penfold, before last night’s monthly meeting of the Royal Society. This boronia it is stated, is an alpine plant which thrives in snow regions, and it yields nearly 1 per cent of a very sweet odoriferous oil, chiefly consisting of citronellol.
Boronia megastigma requires sandy, but humus- rich soil, good drainage, dappled shade, and a thick summer mulch. It is very difficult to propagate them from seed, but cuttings can be taken, preferably from November to March. Many years ago I discovered a magical thicket in Canberra’s National Botanic Gardens. I wonder if it’s still there?
Fortunately for Boronia lovers, Phillip Vaughan of Mt Cassell Nursery in Victoria has made life a little easier by grafting brown boronia onto a hardier stock called Boronia clavata , which is more resistant to root rot.
In my opinion Boronia megastigma is one of the few plants from which it is possible to distil and capture the true fragrance of its flowers in a commercial perfume. Unfortunately it is almost as difficult to find the perfume (as opposed to the oil) as it is to cultivate the plant! Nevertheless, it is worth searching for, as it is remarkably inexpensive.
BORONIA by Olive Hall
Pressed in the leaves of a favorite book, Boronia you sent long ago,
Eash golden chalice with perfume was filled, and brought me a message I know.
Visions of gardens the sun kissed at morn, cool shadowy bowers at noon,
And ever the carol of birds on the wing. in summer that passes too soon.
Now each tiny blossom, so brown with the years, a perfume far sweeter distils,
As caskets of jewels from the lands of the east, so rich are the memories it spills.
Not piquant the scent, now the flower has been crushed, but mellowed as kindly time will.
Nor speaks now of gardens with summer aglow, but of evening, so placid and still.
I can understand why May Gibbs was inspired to write Boronia Babies.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS STORY, YOU MAY LIKE TO READ EVE’S PARADISE
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