515 Plumeria spp.Common Names: frangipani, temple tree Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane Family)
Short and stocky, this broad-crowned little tropical tree is a real beauty. Being deciduous, plumerias reveal their thick, blunt limbs from December to March (the dry season) when bare of leaves. Although the branches are muscular in appearance they tend to be weak and easily broken. When a limb is broken or the bark is cut, the tree bleeds white latex which is typical of members of the Apocynaceae family.
The large leathery leaves appear in spring and are up to 20 in (51 cm) long by 3 in (7.6 cm) wide depending on species or selection. Medium green and oblong in shape they are arranged alternately on the squat branches. The leaves cluster at the branch ends where they form the perfect backdrop for the plant's feature attraction - deliciously fragrant, delicately sculpted flowers.
The waxy flowers are about 2-4 in (5-10 cm) across and consist of five petals arranged in a tubular funnel shape. Plumerias bloom during the wet season which is summertime in South Florida and the Caribbean. Flower color is dependent on the species. Flowers are followed by dark leathery double seed pods up to 1 ft (0.3 m) in length.
P. rubra is a rangy tree that grows to 25 ft (7.6 m) in height with large leaves to 20 in (51 cm) long and very attractive pink to red flowers 4 in (10 cm) in diameter.
P. alba grows to about 40 ft (12.2 m), leaves to about 1 ft (0.3 m) long and has white flowers with a yellow center. P. obtusa grows to about 25 ft (7.6 m) and may remain shrubby if not pruned. It has smaller leaves, to 8 in (20 cm) in length and white 3 in (7.6 cm) diameter flowers with yellow centers. Unlike the other plumerias, the Singapore plumeria is usually evergreen unless subjected to cold.
Most of the Plumerias are native to the Caribbean and Central America. P. obtusa is native to Cuba and the island of Hispaniola (occupied by the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti). P. alba to Puerto Rico while P. rubra is native to a region that stretches from Panama up Mexico's eastern coast to the Yucatan Peninsula. These trees are now enjoyed as landscape specimens in tropical countries around the world.
CultureThe plumerias are tolerant, but prefer rich garden soils. Light: Bright sun or high shade. Moisture: Provide adequate moisture. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Requires a virtually frost free climate. Plumeria drops its leaves when temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C). Propagation: By cuttings in spring. Let latex sap dry, then dust with rooting hormone powder and plant in damp sand.
Plumeria is perfect as a patio tree or as lawn specimen. Use shrubbier forms in mixed hedges where they contribute color and texture. Plant plumerias near porches and bedroom windows so that its delightful fragrance can be enjoyed on summer evenings. For a touch of the exotic, gardeners in colder areas should grow plumeria in their greenhouses because they're awesome.
This is an interesting tree that is readily available to gardeners in tropical areas. The beautiful flowers are visually striking and the fragrance is unforgettable. This is the flower from which Hawaiians make their famous floral necklaces called leis. In addition to the seven or so Plumeria species, there are dozens of cultivars available that differ in flower color and size and all of them are spectacular.
Jack Scheper 08/30/98; updated 1/8/05, 8/25/07