Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata), also referred to as the cananga tree, is a tropical tree native to the Philippines. It bears star-shaped, yellow blooms used to make essential oils and other products.
A farm that grows this tree is EA Real Agrofarm, a 3.3-hectare natural farm in Real, San Luis, Aurora.
Arwin Soriano, 40, an entrepreneur and the proprietor of EA Real Agrofarm, took a liking to the distillation of flowers since the process is similar to his experience and background in manufacturing.
EA Real Agrofarm is a contraction of his son’s initials, Ethan Andres, and the name of the barangay in which the farm is located.
After learning about the declining supply of ylang-ylang in the Philippines, Soriano made it his goal to boost the demand for it by mainly growing ylang-ylang trees and processing them into essential oils.
Soriano started populating the land with ylang-ylang trees in 2017. As of November 2021, 1,500 ylang-ylang trees have been strategically planted around the farm, alongside endemic hardwood trees such as dao (Dracontomelon dao), almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), lauan (Shorea negrosensis), and yakal (Shorea astylosa).
The trees are intercropped with plants like citronella, peppermint, rosemary, and roses.
Converting barren land into burgeoning ylang-ylang farm
The land was unkempt and barren when Soriano’s family acquired the property in 2017. They had to cut down tall cogon grass and prepare the land to be suitable for planting. They then mapped out the position of ylang-ylang trees, hardwood trees, other plants, and rest areas for their workers.
Although the property entailed a full revamp and rehabilitation, Soriano saw its potential for agricultural use since it is in close proximity to a water source, plus it has a spectacular view of the Sierra Madre Mountain ranges.
Diversifying the land
“We waited until the ylang-ylang trees were strong enough before we planted other flowers and trees. This is to make sure the ylang-ylang trees receive [the] undivided attention much needed for their start in life,” said Soriano.
When their family started harvesting ylang-ylang flowers, Soriano also began the research and development of the distillation system needed to turn them into essential oil.
Soriano built the farm’s distillation tank himself, following the design principles he acquired from his previous work experience.
EA Real Agrofarm promotes Philippine native trees and supports the local essential oil industry. They grow and process their own ylang-ylang, citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), peppermint (Mentha × piperita), vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides, as well as other essential oils.
Growing ylang-ylang, according to Soriano, is no different from growing other fruit-bearing trees. The main difference is that they are pruned to a certain height to make harvesting easier.
It takes three years to grow ylang-ylang from seed to flower, and five years for the tree to reach full bloom.
Natural calamities like typhoons are the major setback in growing any crops. After their previous experience with typhoon Ulysses (International name: Vamco), they planted windbreaker trees around the farm perimeter to help lessen the impact of future typhoons.
Farm harvests are both for selling and personal use. They sell products such as essential oil and citronella hydrosol through their online shop, EA Essentials.
Because the farm is still in its early stages, Soriano handles most of the duties necessary to operate the farm and distillation.
He visits the farm biweekly since he also runs a Japan surplus shop to help sustain it. When he’s not around, the farm is taken care of by their farmhands, Mylyn and Jayson Castro.
From seed to bottle: making essential oils from fresh flowers
The ylang-ylang flowers are harvested between six to eight in the morning, then Soriano starts distilling them afterward.
The farm uses steam distillation, which is the standard industry approach to produce essential oils and hydrosol. Hydrosol is the water produced after extracting the essential oils from fresh flowers or other plant materials.
The leftover flowers will then be utilized in their vermicompost beds, which will produce another output: vermicast.
Soriano said that while many of their trees are yet to bloom, their distillation setup is already up and running every day.
Their farm is still small compared to large essential oil producers that can distill more than 100 to 200 kilos of flowers per day, he added. Their distillation system, as of the interview, can only process 15 kilos of ylang-ylang flowers, which can make two 10 ml bottles of essential oil a day.
Once the farm is fully operational and ready to expand, Soriano aspires to turn it into a learning site to increase and promote ylang-ylang production and processing in the country.
Photos courtesy of Arwin Soriano
For more information, visit EA Real Agrofarm