Frangipani flowers

Close up of the blooms of the Frangipani tree
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

The exotic Frangipani

Joss-sticks have some wonderful scents to them that can be so strong you can almost taste what you smell as they burn. And so it was that I first came upon the word Frangipani as the name for a highly-perfumed incense, one in a wide range on sale. You could buy Frangipani scented oils too. Later on I discovered that the perfume known as Frangipani came from a tree that grows in the tropics, and a very beautiful tree at that.

The Frangipani tree has the botanical name Plumeria alba and is in the family Apocyanaceae like its relative the Oleander (Nerium oleander), which is also cultivated for its great ornamental value in tropical and sub-tropical gardens and parks.

Frangipani foliage and flowers

Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

Description of the Frangipani

The Frangipani Tree has large leathery leaves that are carried towards the ends of its often crooked-looking branches. Thebunches of flowers are made up of very beautiful white five-petalled blooms.

Other species and varieties of the Frangipani have pink and yellow flowers. All of them are very beautiful flowers and often cultivated in gardens and parks.

There is also the Common Frangipani or Red Frangipani ( P. rubra), which is native to Mexico, Central America, Columbia and Venezuela. There some 300 varieties of the Frangipani.

These flowers give off a strong perfume at night to attract hawk moths that pollinate the trees. Although the flowers produce strong perfume they do not create any nectar but the moths find that out too late.

Some species of Frangipani tree are deciduous and they look distinctive though even when they have dropped all their leaves.

If broken or cut the Frangipani oozes a white sap or latex very similar to that produced by plants in the Euphorbia spurge family. This white latex is poisonous.

The most commonly grown Frangipani Tree species (P. alba) comes originally from the Antilles Islands but now grows in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world. It is the national flower of Nicaragua.

In Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific Ocean the flowers are used to make the flower-garlands known as leis.

The name Frangipani came from the marquis of an Italian familiy of the nobility who had created a perfume using this flower.

The Frangipani is usually propagated by cuttings that are rooted in well-drained compost after being dried off at the base of the stem. They are susceptible to root-rot so need this treatment and will not root if the soil they are planted in is too damp..

In some parts of the world in Asia, Frangipani Trees are associated by the superstitious with ghosts, demons and vampires. There is certainly something magical about this tree so it is not surprising that there are such beliefs about it.

Hindus and Buddhists grow Frangipani trees by their temples but the Hindus, except those in Bali, will never offer the flowers of Frangipani in their temple offerings to the deities.

Copyright © 2013 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.