The Differences of Cananga and Ylang-Ylang

The Basic

Both Ylang-ylang and Cananga are members of the Annonaceae they also both belong to the same genus – Cananga. Even their species is confusing; both are odorata species. The addition of the words var. genuina to the botanical name of ylang ylang and var. macrophylla to the botanical name of cananga is the only difference between these two very similar plants. This is simply a “lower”rank in the botanical ranking system than that of a species, and it guides in distinguishing the subtle differences between each plant.

Botanical Profile of Ylang Ylang

Cananga odorata var. genuina (Ylang ylang) is a tall tropical tree with distinctive yellow, pink, or mauve flowers. The flowers are distinguishable because they have drooping, narrow, petals – a bit like the tentacles of a sea star. The leaves of ylang ylang are also green and glossy. Steam distillation of the fragrant flowers yields the essential oil.

Botanical Profile of Cananga

Cananga (Cananga odorata var. macrophylla) is a tall tropical tree that produces flowers that are nearly identical to Ylang-ylang. In fact, the two plants are so similar and produce such similar essential oils, that some suppliers will sell Cananga essential oil as Ylang-ylang essential oil.

Difference Between the Essential Oils

The primary difference between the two essential oils is that Cananga contains more of the chemical constituent Beta-caryophyllene. Beta-caryophyllene helps to maintain healthy cellular function* and is particularly soothing to the skin. It also promotes normal nervous and immune function. Ylang ylang essential oil is a more floral oil than Cananga essential oil. Therefore, those that find the heady aroma of Ylang-ylang essential oil too much may prefer the aroma of Cananga essential oil.