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It is a fast-growing tree of the custard-apple family, Annonaceae. Its attains an average height of 12 m. The evergreen leaves are smooth and glossy, oval, pointed, with wavy margins, and 13–20 cm long. The flower is drooping, long-stalked, with six narrow, greenish-yellow petals, rather like a sea star in appearance, and yields a highly fragrant essential oil.
The plant is native to the Philippines and Indonesia and is commonly grown in Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Comoros Islands. It grows in full or partial sun, and prefers the acidic soils of its native rainforest habitat.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It is believed to relieve high blood pressure, normalize sebum secretion for skin problems, and is considered to be an aphrodisiac. In Indonesia, ylang-ylang flowers are spread on the bed of newlywed couples.