Cypresses, evergreens famous for their longevity, are a staple of temperate climes and have an association with the Mediterranean—think the hills of Tuscany (or the coast of California). The leaves, twigs, and cones are distilled to capture the tree's sharp, fresh scent, which is distinctive without being overpowering.
One to Smell: Victorinox Swiss Army's Forest Eau de Toilette layers Siberian pine and wood moss over a sturdy cypress base.
Frankincense is an aromatic resin tapped from trees of the Boswellia genus. It has been used in incense (hence the name) and fragrances for over than five thousand years. It’s also edible and is often used in traditional Asian medicines to aid digestion. With a piney essence, frankincense is a bracing and powerful note that calls attention to itself—use it sparingly.
One to Smell: Dior Homme's Bois d'Argent has a light vanilla scent that plays off the earthy frankincense.
Like frankincense, myrrh is probably best-known as one of the gifts given to the baby Jesus upon his birth by the Three Magi. An oleoresin (a blend of a resin and an essential oil), myrrh was also used by the Egyptians to embalm mummies. Another common use of the ingredient is as an antiseptic for oral care. On the woodsy scale, Myrrh tends to be a bit cooler, with a light sweetness.
One to Smell: Prada's Myrrhe, mixes Italian citruses and lavender atop the rich myrrh.
Sandalwood, known for its creamy, milky character, comes from a group of trees native to India as well as Australia and many South Pacific islands. Essential oils from this tree often serve as a base for fragrances, establishing a woodsy tone that other ingredients can build off of. It’s also used in traditional Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies.
One to Smell: Cartier's Déclaration d'un Soir contrasts a strong pepper base with notes of rose and sandalwood.
The roots of vetiver, a perennial grass native to India, are distilled into an essential oil that is found in nearly all fragrances. It smells a little something like moist dirt (in a good way). Thanks mostly the popularity of this earthy, masculine scent, vetiver is produced at a rate of about 250 tons a year.
One to Smell: Atelier Cologne's Vétiver Fatal offers a blend of bergamot and citrus to add some zest to the Haitian vetiver base.