I only saw one ful and only once in my life. I still remember that one flower. Ful is a memorable flower that has become the flower of ceremonies and rituals in many countries. My mother and I had a ritual for it. I must have been twelve, thirteen when I saw the ful in a little vase on my mother’s night table. Immediately I was attracted to it but mother told me not to touch it or it would wilt and turn brown. I leaned in to smell it very carefully for fear of grazing the petals with my nose. I remember a slightly distinct smell. That’s it. That was the whole experience. What became of the flower later, I do not recollect. Where mother may have gotten it I never knew.
Thinking about this plant turned into an education. If it were not for the internet and Wikipedia that distant childhood memory would have remained just that, whereas now I know a few things about this special flower.
Its common name is ful in Turkish, fouli ((Φούλι) in Greek, full (فل) in Arabic and sampaguita in Filipino and Spanish. It is known as the Arabian jasmine in English. Jasminum sambac is the botanical name for it.
Let’s look at how the name Jasminum sambac originated. In Persian yâsamin (یاسمین) is a feminine given name which means ‘gift from god’ and it is also the name for a flowering plant. From this word come the words yasmin and jasmine. The pronunciation of yasmin is parallel with the English jasmine, but in Arabic and Turkish the “s” does not sound like a “z”. The Turkish word is yasemin pronounced as three syllables.
“Medieval Arabic ‘zanbaq’ meant jasmine flower-oil from the flowers of any species of jasmine. This word entered late medieval Latin as ‘sambacus’ and ‘zambacca’ with the same meaning as the Arabic, and then in post-medieval Latin plant taxonomy the word was adopted as a label for the J. sambac species. The J. sambac species is a good source for jasmine flower-oil in terms of the quality of the fragrance and it continues to be cultivated for this purpose for the perfume industry today. The J. officinale species is also cultivated for the same purpose, and probably to a greater extent.”
Despite its common name this flower is not native to Arabia. It originally hails from South Asia. It is thought to have originated in India. Some believe that it comes from Pakistan or perhaps Iran. Both in Asia and in the Arab world jasmine was an esteemed flower for thousands of years. It is believed to have been brought to Europe thorough Spain by the Moors in the 1600s.
In 1753, Carl Linnaeus described the plant as Nyctanthes sambac in the first edition of his book Systema Naturae. In 1789, William Aiton reclassified the plant to the genus Jasminum. He also coined the common English name of ‘Arabian jasmine’, creating the misconception that it was Arabian in origin.
Jasmine sambac is widely cultivated for its attractive and fragrant flowers. The flowers are also used for making tea and in the perfume industry. The flowers are harvested as buds during early morning. The flower buds must be white, as green ones may not emit the characteristic fragrance they are known for.
Jasminum sambac is a small shrub that can grow up to 3 meters. The flowers open at night, and close in the morning. I am learning the plant also produces a fruit which is a purple to black berry 1 cm in diameter. J. sambac belongs to the Oleaceae botanical family that includes the olive tree and its relatives. Now, isn’t that something?
The cultivars of J. sambac differ from each other by the structure of the corolla-all of the petals of a flower together are called a corolla. A cultivar is a plant selected and grown for desirable characteristics. From among numerous cultivars of the J. sambac, there are four which are most recognized.
'Maid of Orleans' - possesses flowers with a single layer of five or more oval shaped petals. The ‘Maid of Orleans’ is the national flower of Philippines. It is the variety most commonly referred to as ‘sampaguita’ It is also one of the three national flowers of Indonesia. It is widely cultivated in many countries today. The plant favors a warm and sunny climate.
'Belle of India' - possesses flowers with a single or double layer of elongated petals.
'Mysore Mulli' - resembles the 'Belle of India' cultivar but has slightly shorter petals.
'Grand Duke of Tuscany' - possesses flowers with doubled petals. They resemble small white roses and are less fragrant than the other varieties. It is also known as ‘Rose jasmine’. In the Philippines, it is known as ‘kampupot’. Together with other varieties of jasmine, this variety also grows particularly in southwestern Turkey but it is not widely known. Unlike Jasminum officinale and other jasmine species this shrub has thicker, sturdier branches.
The variety of Jasminum sambac that I saw on my mother’s night table long long time ago is the Grand Duke of Tuscany cultivar. I still have my mother and the vase. My mother does not have her memories.