Magnolia champaca, known in English as champak, is a large evergreen tree in the Magnoliaceae family. It was previously classified as Michelia champaca.
It known for its fragrant flowers, and its timber used in woodworking.
The tree is native to the Indomalaya ecozone, consisting of South Asia, Southeast Asia−Indochina, and southern China.
It is found in Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests ecoregions, at elevations of 200–1,600 metres (660–5,250 ft). It is native to Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. In China it is native to southern Xizang and southern and southwestern Yunnan Provinces.
In its native range Magnolia champaca grows to 50 metres (160 ft) or taller. Its trunk can be up to 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) in diameter. The tree has a narrow umbelliform crown.
It has strongly fragrant flowers in varying shades of cream to yellow-orange, during June to September. The obovoid-ellipsoid carpels produce 2−4 seeds during September to October.
The flowers are used in Southeast Asia for several purposes. Especially in India, they are primarily used for worship at temples whether at home or out, and more generally worn in hair by girls and women as a means of beauty ornament as well as a natural perfume. Flowers are used to be floated in bowls of water to scent the room, as a fragrant decoration for bridal beds, and for garlands.
“Magnolia champaca however is more rare and has a strong perfume, and is not that commonly or plentifully used – for example in hair it is worn singly or as a small corsage but rarely as a whole garland, and for bridal beds it is most often jasmine and roses while for bowls of water to be placed around rooms usually other, more colourful for visual decoration and less strongly perfumed flowers are used.”
The tree was traditionally used to make fragrant hair and massage oils. Jean Patou’s famous perfume, ‘Joy,’ the second best selling perfume in the world after Chanel No. 5, is derived in part from the essential oils of champaca flowers. The vernacular name Joy Perfume Tree comes from this. Many niche perfumers are now once again using Champaca Absolute as single note fragrances.
The scent similar to the scent of this plant is said to emit by a civet in Sri Lanka, Paradoxurus montanus. Because all the other civets are known to emit very unpleasant odours, this species is renowned to emit pleasant odour similar to this plant’s scent.