Since jasmine is common with both florists and growers of houseplants, I thought it was at least worth mentioning the most well known and commonly encountered species. While they are largely tropical or sub-tropical, many grow well in containers and can be wintered indoors. The word jasmine comes from the Arabic yasameen, meaning “gift of God”. Jasmine based perfumes are very expensive because huge quantities of blossoms are needed to create very small quantities of essential oil. Jasmine blossoms are in fact too delicate to withstand the distillation process used to extract essential oils, so their essence is more accurately called jasmine absolute. Damascus, Syria is known as “the city of jasmine”.
Jasminum grandiflorum- Spanish Jasmine, Royal Jasmine- From Iran and parts of Asia, and now widely naturalized in many parts of the Mediterranean. It is heavily used by the perfume industry and commonly decorates both Buddhist and Hindu temples. It is sub-tropical and normally deciduous but it often remains semi-evergreen in mild climates. It blooms spring through summer and the flowers have a strong, sweet fragrance and a starry shape. They are white in color. There is also a double flowered cultivar. A scrambling, twiggy shrub reaching 15 ft., it wants full sun and abundant warmth. This plant is much loved in India and Sri Lanka and grown in much abundance there.
Jasminum multiflorum- Indian Jasmine- Very similar to J. grandiflorum, and difficult to tell apart sometimes. This species is much cultivated in many parts of Asia and has fragrant, starry white blooms produced in such profusion that sometimes leaves are hardly visible at all! It is widely naturalized in Queensland, Australia and regarded as something of a weed.
Jasminum nudiflorum- Winter Jasmine- From China, and probably the hardiest of all the jasmines, surviving well even in zone 5. This is a very dense, twiggy, scrambling shrub to 10 ft. with dark green leaves in leaflets of three. The flowers are bright yellow (or occasionally white) and appear on the bare branches and stems anytime between November and March, and hence the common name. Although it can be quite showy in bloom, it needs to be cut back hard after flowering or it quickly becomes extremely unruly and out of control. Peculiar for a jasmine, this species is entirely without scent. It can be quite marvelous when trained against a warm, sunny wall and some gardeners have also used it as a groundcover or bonsai. It can handle air pollution, abuse, and fairly serious neglect, erupting into bloom in the depths of winter. It has no pest or disease problems and has received the RHS award of merit.
Jasminum officinale- Common Jasmine, Poet’s Jasmine- Widely recognized as the national flower of Pakistan, and native to many Asian countries, this species has been known and loved for thousands of years. It is a vigorous, twining, deciduous climber that is often available from florists as a potted plant; usually trained around a wreath. It can make a decent houseplant if it goes into a very warm, sheltered spot for the summer and is pruned hard after flowering and heavily fertilized. The starry white blossoms sometimes emerge from pale pink buds, and there are many cultivars available, including some with variegated foliage. The scent of the blossoms is very strong, and blooms can appear anywhere from April through November. The scent is especially potent at night. Medicinally, this jasmine has been in much use over the ages. The scent is used by aromatherapists to treat depression, but it has also been used for skin issues, respiratory problems, and perhaps most famously, it is regarded as a powerful aphrodisiac. It has been used to treat nearly every sexual issue you can think of, for both men and women. It is easily propagated from cuttings and is one of the easiest jasmines to grow.
Jasminum polyanthum- Pink Jasmine- Native to China, and frequently confused with the species mentioned above. This is an extremely vigorous grower that can reach 18 ft., and although it is normally evergreen, it can be become semi-deciduous if temperatures get too cold for its liking. The blossoms are heavily scented but perhaps not as fragrant as J. officinale, and the buds are a brilliant deep rose-pink opening to white blooms. It grows very quickly and easily and is highly tolerant of shade and abuse- it has become a serious nuisance plant in both Australia and New Zealand. It propagates not only from seed but also from extensive suckering. If you have the space for it, it can be easily cultivated in a large container. It has received the RHS award of merit.
Jasminum sambac- Arabian Jasmine- The name is misleading, as it is actually native to southeast Asia. This is one of the most loved, most cultivated flowers in the world. It is much used by the perfume industry and used in many Asian countries for special celebrations, funerals, weddings, birth announcements, church decorations, etc. Growing 3-10 ft. tall, this is an evergreen species that is easily cultivated in humid, tropical environments. The flowers are white and heavily scented, but there are also many double flowered cultivars. It is the national flower of the Philippines (where it is called sampaguita) and also one of the national flowers of Indonesia, where it symbolizes both purity and sincerity. In Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, it is called pikake, and much used in leis and floral arrangements.
There are a variety of other plants with white, scented flowers that are also incorrectly called jasmines. Two of the best known are the star jasmine (Trachelospermum), which is in the oleander family and night jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), which is in the nightshade family. Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis) is often used by brides and florists, but is actually a member of the milkweed family.