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What’s Bloomin’ in Paradise: Frangipani (Plumeria ssp)

By Staff | May 26, 2011

First impression: Bright, exotic five-petal flowers that remind me of orchid blooms on a tree. The trunk has super smooth light grey bark with large dark green fleshy leaves in its canopy. The tree stands very straight up and down with a bulbous shape. Milky white sap oozes when a flower is broken off.

Exotic perfumed scents linger in the breeze. No need to visit Hawaii, we have many very mature Frangipani trees in the colors of ruby, yellow, pink, and white blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Frangipani is pronounced FRAN-GEE-PAN-EE, which includes around 45 + species of trees and shrubs from tropical America. This beauty is great as a specimen plant or in the company of other plants or lining a walkway. Considered a small tree, whose mature height can be 25 feet, it is perfect for our temperatures of dry climates and coastal areas. Plant in partial shade to full sun in a well-drained area.

If you see nibbling, it is the host plant for a large 6-inch caterpillar that feeds on it. This caterpillar, morphs into the Tetriosphinx moth with a wingspan 5 inches. Most Frangipani’s have a dormant period when all their leaves drop off. For about two months, you must trust your tree is not dead. The tree is utilizing all its energy to surprise you with oodles of flowers and fragrance.

Get ready, when they bloom, there is nothing to compare to their beauty, uniqueness and fragrance. Seeds or sticks can do propagation. You can harvest the seedpods; they look like swollen boomerangs on your tree. It’s recommended waiting till they turn dark brown, and then cut them off.

I have harvested them when they are green and laid them in a pot in a shady area. They are packed with winged seeds. Plant wing up, seed down into soil and keep lightly moist. In about two weeks your babies will peek through.

They can be a big surprise as adults, with different colors, shapes, and sizes. Sticks are easy to propagate by 1 to 2 foot cuttings of any limb then prune off all its leaves. When you cut your “Frangi stick”, let the end bleed out the milky sap (which resembles our poinsettia ooze), by laying it on the ground under a shady shrub.

Wear gloves, wash your hands, never ingest this ooze, it has a highly toxic quality. Approximately 2 to 7 days later retrieve your stick and it will have closed off its ooze and is ready to plant. Many of my sticks have traveled in suitcases and been tossed around at gardening get together.

In days long ago, sticks were graveyard plants and widely distributed by traveling missionary priests. Present day, Hawaii is known for its lovely lei’s from the never-ending forests of Frangipani Trees.

Pros: Unique orchid like bloom- Does well in sandy soil – Likes full sun – Easy to maintain/prune-easily propagated by sticks – fragrance is haunting – Lei’s can be made for parties – Salt tolerance – Is great for accents in a garden due to its small size – host plant for a lovely large moth – Gotta have at least on Frangipani in your Florida garden – Don’t you just love saying Fran-Gee-Pan-ee

Cons: Daily clean up when shedding leaves – Non Native status – Looses limbs in strong winds – Neighbors may be stealing sticks when your not looking – slow grower – Can fool you by looking dead with no leaves and just branches between flowering – When invaded by caterpillar can be very aggressive eaters.

Conclusion: Frangipani is coveted as one of the world’s most beautiful flowering trees. Just a whiff of the fragrance can take you back to your memories of Hawaii. Luckily, it fits in perfectly in our tropical oasis. It encourages you to bring a little aloha to your garden. Hula and grass skirts are optional!

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!