Linaloe is an essential oil yielding tree originating in South-West Mexico, in Guerrero, Morelos, Oaxaca and Puebla. Long ago introduced into India, it is cultivated there for its essential oil, mainly around Bangalore.
It is a small tree, typically 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) tall, with wide-spreading horizontal branches coming off a short trunk, forming a much-branched rounded crown. The bark is grey and smooth, and the stems soft-wooded and succulent, with the ability to store water, enabling the tree to survive a long dry season.
The leaves are up to 20 cm (8 in) long and made up of six to fourteen leaflets arranged in pairs along the length and with an extra leaflet at the tip. Individual leaflets are oval with a pointed tip, 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.1 in) long, dull blue-green, deeply toothed on the margins and give off a sweet aroma when crushed. They fall off the tree in the dry season, leaving the branches bare and exposed until the rainy season, when the new leaves emerge.
At the transition from the dry to the rainy season, small green-white flowers bloom in loose clusters on the newly leafed branches and with female and male flowers on separate trees. The fertilised female flowers develop into small, green, egg-shaped fruit, becoming red or red-brown when ripe then fall to the ground.
The wood and mature fruit yield on steam distillation, a colourless or pale yellow essential oil traded respectively as 'Linaloe wood oil' and 'Linaloe berry oil', with similar composition and an agreeable balsamic, slightly rose-like aroma. Both are used to scent perfumes, soaps, lotions and cosmetics, and flavour foods such as baked goods, chilled dairy desserts, and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The berry oil is considered superior to the wood oil, possessing a longer-lasting aroma.
Linaloe oil was an important source of 'Linalol' used in perfumes and valued for its spicy-floral honeysuckle and lilac notes. Unfortunately, Linalol is now cheaply synthesised but may one day return to its past prominence if the call for natural ingredients continues growing stronger.
In Mexico, the oil is distilled from the wood of wild trees at least twenty years old, with the best oil coming from much older trees. In contrast, in India, the oil is distilled only from the husk of mature fruit, leaving the tree unharmed.
In India, the mature fruit are hand-picked from the tree or collected after falling to the ground. They are then shade-dried and de-husked, with production roughly at 250 kilograms of dried husks per hectare. With an average oil content of 10%, the yield is about 25 kilograms of oil on distillation, the equivalent of 22 pounds of oil to the acre.
Grows naturally in sub-humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally areas with annual lows of 13 to 21 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 500 to 1200 mm and a dry season of 5 to 8 months.
New plants are usually started from cuttings and using air-layering (circumposing) techniques because the seed have a low germination rate. Also, plants produced vegetatively start to fruit much earlier than seedlings do.
It performs best on free-draining loam, sand-loam, loamy-sand and gravelly or limestone soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.5 to 8.5, and on sites with full sun exposure.
Its poor seed germination rate is unlikely to make it emerge as a problem weed or invasive species. There does not appear to be any records of its escape or naturalisation, despite its cultivation outside its native range.
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