Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perfumery Material: Cassie & Mimosa & Differences with Cassia & Cassis

I well recall seeing farmers collecting gum from the acacia tree for use as gum arabic substitute in Australia years ago, their agile hands working effortlessly. It was a sight to behold, the pom poms of rich yellow cascading down the branches. There is an intimate scent to this little bloom, instilling a sense of longing and nostalgia, the ache from the past we long to go back to.

 In Greece we call acacia "γαζία", especially the saturated Farnesiana variety and it is among my first scented childhood memories, not least because a huge tree grew under our house; the euphonic word matches the rich, intense aroma with its almost boozy, lightly spicy undertone.

The yellow 'mimosas' of the florist shops are actually acacias, as "true mimosas" never have yellow flowers.

Many acacias have fragrant flowers but only two species, Acacia decurrens var. dealbata and A. farnesiana are utilized in perfumery.

Cassie, the intimate, animalic essence

Cassie flower absolute is extracted from the flora of the Acacia Farnesiana shrub, itself named after the Villa Farnese where the semi-tropical plant was transplated for ornamental reasons. The plant is named after Odoardo Farnese (1573–1626) of the notable Italian family which under the patronage of cardinal Alessandro Farnese, maintained some of the first private European botanical gardens in Rome, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Farnese Gardens at Carparola. They later became famous for importing acacia to Italy from the Caribbean and Central America, henceforth the name stuck to the plant.

Known as Cassier du Levant in the South of France, the scent of cassie (from the Acacia farnesiana) is rich in benzaldehyde, anisic aldehyde, and a violet-smelling ketone, rendering the essence sensuous and shadowy fleshy like the contours of a soft feminine body through gauzy garments. It also contains eugenol, methyleugenol, coumarin, cuminaldehyde (giving that intimate tonality), decanal (aldehyde C10), cresol, methyl salicilate and nerolidol. Among floral notes, cassie is perhaps the most overtly womanly and even though it's technically a flower, it's usually classified under anisic smells which might explain how some people find it a difficult note to claim their own in fragrances.

The scent profile of cassie absolute is warm, honeyed, iris-powdery and quite balsamic with a hint of cinnamon, berry and aniseed, combined with a herbaceous floral effect. Its aroma therapeutical properties include help in dealing with stress and depression. It's no accident that in the myth of Isis and Osiris the tree of life has characteristics of the acacia tree. Its bark's smoke has a profylactic use in ancient lore and is used to put the gods in a good mood. Roots and resin from acacia are still combined with rhododendron, acorus, cytisus, salvia and some other components for making incense in Nepal and regions of China.
Favored as a scarce and therefore most valuable perfume ingredient, cassie has been harnessed in several renditions from Caron's Farnesiana to Coty's La Jacée through Creed's Aubepine Acacia, but nowhere is the flesh-like honeyed richness, from bark to thorny stem to sugary-spun blossom, best interpreted than in Dominique Ropion's masterpiece Une Fleur de Cassie for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. There the marriage of the exoticism and the animalic, almost bestial warmth of cassie with the more classic jasmine & rose shine into a tapestry where every thread is shining with its own gleam. The fragrance is lush, disturbing, almost too voluptuous. Une Fleur de Cassie also contains the more innocent mimosa absolute, a sweet note counterpointed by spicy carnation, smooth sandalwood and a hint of vanilla.

Mimosa, a cloud of sugar-spun innocence

Mimosa possesses that precious trait of innocence we associate with childhood, the sugar-spun scent close to heliotrope without the almondy nuances, soft like a cloud, dreamy like the first ray of spring sun on the February tree branches, lively and luminous like a promise of happiness. It's interesting to note that mimosa absolute figures highly in recreations of the elusive note of lilac in perfumery and of lily of the valley fragrances. The main constituent in mimosa flowers is farnesol which acts as an insect pheromone. (It's also found in other flowers, such as cyclamen, tuberose, and rose as well as an ingredient in the composition of several balsams and in neroli oil).

Two types of mimosa are most common: Acacia Pycnantha (literally "of dense flowers") is the floral emblem of Australia, while Acacia dealbata (wattle) is a similar b variant often presented to women and refered to as "mimosa"; it's probably what most people associate with mimosa. A variant called mimosa pudica is called "shy plant, because it closes its compound leaves inwards when touched and is in fact a "true" mimosa. Mimosa can be distinguished from the large related genera, Acacia and Albizia, since its flowers have 10 or fewer stamens.

Common Confusions

Silk Tree is often erroneously referred to as "mimosa", but in reality it is a different tree with brightly pink flowers with thread-like stamens in the shape of a Spanish fan belognging in the Albizia genus.You can get a sense of the scent of silk tree if you smell Dior's best-selling feminine perfume J'Adore.
Cassia and cassis, though linguistically close to cassie, have nothing to do with it. Cassia is a spicy note coming from the Cinnamonum cassia, while cassis refers to a synthetically recreated berry-lychee perfumers' "base" much used in 1980s and American perfumery with a nod to blackcurrant buds (bourgeons de cassis in French). You can smell lots of the latter in Lancome's Poeme and in Tiffany for women by Tiffany.

Fragrances with a notable cassie/mimosa note (with distinction on which uses which essence when unclear from the name):

Acca Kappa Mimosa
Annick Goutal Le Mimosa
Ayala Moriel Les Nuages de Joie Jaune
Calypso Christiane Celle Mimosa
Caron Farnesiana (cassie)
Chanel No.5 (mimosa)
Creed Aubepine Acacia
Czech & Speake Mimosa
DSH Perfume Mimosa 
Estée Lauder Private Collection (cassie)
Fragonard Mimosa
Frederic Malle Une Fleur de Cassie
Givenchy Amarige (mimosa)
Givenchy Amariage Harvest Mimosa 2005
Givenchy Amarige Harvest Mimosa 2007
Givenchy Amarige Harvest Mimosa 2009
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Tiare Mimosa
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Grosellina (cassie)
Guerlain Après L’Ondée (cassie)
Guerlain Champs Elysées (mimosa)
Hermès Calèche Fleurs de Méditerranée
Hermès Kelly Calèche (mimosa)
Halle Berry Halle (mimosa)
L'Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa pour Moi
L'Erbolario Mimosa
L'Occitane Voyage en Mediterranee Mimosa de l'Esterel
Molinard Les Fleurs: Mimosa
Patricia de Nicolai Mimosaique
Shiseido Zen (mimosa)
Yves Rocher Pur Desir de Mimosa

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Travel Memoirs Grasse, France & the Route de Mimosa

Credits: window overlooking acacia via journal.illuminatedperfume.com, acacia pic via bestgarden.gr, Villa Farnese via gardenvisit.com, bottle via luxe-psychologies.fr


  1. Thanks for your informative descriptions as usual! Interesting you put Apres l'Ondee under cassie - I'd have said the mimosa-like heliotropin rather. But perhaps it's the fresh cassie smell, not the absolute of Fleur de Cassie. Either way, IFRA made this another thing of the past.


  2. Miss Heliotrope07:47

    Apparently, a reason we Australians call it wattle, is because when the early colonialists arrived, they built the equivalent of wattle-and-daube huts with it...

    It is absolutely glorious, and the reason our athletes compete in green & gold, rather than the colours of our flag.

  3. Miss Heliotrope07:56

    O I forgot - many people here are working on celebrating Wattle Day, a cross between the Japanese cherry blossom celebration, and a National Holiday (rather than ones associated with our British royal past) - on the day, one can buy bunches of wattle on the street in some places, and they hand out small springs to wear - it is lovely.

  4. M,

    you're welcome!

    To clarify: I specifically mention cassie in Apres L'Ondee because it actually contains (or used to contain at any rate at a discernible ratio) cassie absolute. That's corroborated info from a high-ranking perfumer.
    It does smell most of heliotropin (heliotrope) though and a little violet (plus iris), so your nose isn't broken. :-D

  5. I'm surprised by the amount of commercial spam I have to weed out each day. Are they so opposed to actually paying to advertise openly?

  6. MH,

    I didn't know about the competing costumes being inspired by the mimosa!! What a fascinating tidbit of information, thank you!

  7. MH,

    Oh yes, I have seen the handing out and it's indeed a lovely sight.
    If I recall correctly there was an open market on the way from Sydney to the Blue Mountains? Been years ago of course, so my memory could be faulty.

  8. Wonderful post! I recently got some older Caron Montaigne. Some listings show cassia as an ingredient. I'm not sure. Anyway, I love it.

    We have the silk tree here in the southeastern US. We call it mimosa. It's commonly thought of as a "trash tree." The seedlings look like ferns, but if you don't pull them out, a couple of years later you'll have a tree there! I think they're beautiful, very primitive looking.

  9. Thanks P! :-)

    Montaigne doesn't sound too far from having some cassie. I don't have a sample at hand to sniff right now (my loss) but recall it as rich and honeyed.

    People here sometimes call the silk tree "mimosa" as well (though they call the Farnesiana "γαζία" which is a different name both phonetically and etymologically) and it's annoying me no end for some reason. For the longest time I couldn't understand why, when they are so different looking trees! Now I know how they're discant cousins in botany at least.

    Primitive looking is a glorious description! Yes, indeed! So clever of you.

  10. acac15:42

    This is so helpful! I'm wearing Une Fleur de Cassie today and wondering about all the confusion between Mimosa/Cassie/Cassis... and here is all the answers plus a list of fragrances to try! :D Side note on Cassis: I remember drinking a delicious dark purple liquor of Creme de Cassis in Dijon. It tasted of lush sweet berries, and it took me a while to figure out it's made of black currents.

  11. Acac,

    thanks, glad it was useful.
    FdC is exquisite, isn't it? I find it weirdly intimate too, something I love to wear just for myself and my beloved.

    As to cassis liqueur, oh I get what you're saying. Kir Royal is my favorite cocktail! ;-)


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