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Jasmine

Jasmine    (Olivaceae)

The genus encompasses several species. Surprisingly, they belong to the same family as olive trees.
The adjective “exuberant” springs to mind:  jasmine, an evergreen and a shrub, is a plant of superlatives: does it grow tall more than it sprawls, or vice-versa? Can the nose detect it from afar, given the heavenly fragrance?

The common jasmine, Jasminum officinale, can rise up to 30 ft and spread across to 15 ft. Whenever given a support, it turns into a twining vine. Its pinnate leaves have five to nine leaflets. The flowers, white or light pink, are fragrant from early summer to autumn. This species originated in the general area of China, the Himalayas and Asia Minor. The origin flavors the name: “jasmine” became part of English in the sixteenth century. It comes from the Arabic yas min, which derived in turn from the Persian yasmin. It can be surmised that the plant migrated from Northeastern India into Persia, then Arabic mer-chants brought it to Western Europe with other trade items.

The Arabian jasmine, Jasminum sambac, native to India or Southeast Asia, is somew-hat smaller. The leaves are oval, rather broad and dark green. The waxy and white flowers grow in clusters of three to 12 blooms. Inhabitants of Damascus, Syria, have planted it ex-tensively in their city, which exudes a lovely perfume.

The molecule jasmone, whose structure Leopold Ruzicka elucidated in 1933, pro-vides the smell. Chemically speaking, it is a conjugated cyclopentenone with two side chains, one carbon and five carbon-long. Not only has it been forever used in perfumery, it also exemplifies volatile, smelly chemicals used for communication by numerous life forms. It controls pollination by insects. It induces selective production by many a plant of secondary metabolites that fight development of pests, diseases and weeds, thus protec-ting plants such as wheat. It attracts parasites of predatory herbivores, thus protecting plants emitting this distress call. It is also a signal for gene expression. There are growing indications of its importance to human health as well. The attractiveness of the perfume is not misleading, the poets who mentioned the charm of jasmine in many languages over the centuries only spoke the truth.