Despite the apparent connection, the Tuberose is not related to the rose, its name deriving from something more prosaic like its tuberous roots. A Marie Antoinette’s favourite - she planted tuberose at the Petit Trianon gardens in Versailles and used it in her personal perfume, this beautiful and heavily scented flower travelled from its native Mexico to Southern Asia, then to Europe before rapidly becoming the symbol for passion and voluptuousness during Victorian era.
A member of the Agave family, the tuberose (Polyanthes tuberosa L.) was already appreciated and cultivated by Aztecs and Mayas as an ornamental plant for their gardens; and they also use it to add flavour to their hot chocolate. It was called ‘amole’ or ‘omixochitil’, meaning ‘the bone flower’, a reference to its waxy, tubular white blossoms. Flowers already had a significant role in ancient Mexico, being part of daily life and multiple ceremonies, from birth to death and burial. It is often said that while Spanish colonist had only one word to describe large, colourful flowers (that is, rose), Mexican gardeners had already developed an entire scientific system for plant names, combining terms that referred to a plant’s key characteristics (appearance, colour, habitat, medicinal properties etc.)
Tuberose flowers, with its white blossoms with pale pink hues on the bud, look innocent enough, but emit a complex sweet fragrance often described as hypnotic. Indeed, in common with other sensual white flowers, its scent, stronger at night to attract pollinators, has an underlying animalic characteristic, with fragrance notes that hint at the body and sex.
“The tuberose, this superb girl from Orient, has become with us, as it is in Persia, the emblem of voluptuousness. Do you want to multiply the pleasure it gives you, come with the object of your love to breathe it in the moonlight, at a time when the nightingale is yearning. So, by a secret virtue, these sweet perfumes will add an indefinable charm to your delicious pleasures. But if, reckless, you want to enjoy it without moderation, if you approach it too closely, this divine flower will be no more than a dangerous enchantress who, while intoxicated, will pour into your bosom a dangerous poison.” Charlotte de La Tour, 'The Language of flowers' (1819).