About Frangipanis

Nothing evokes that tropical feeling quite like the frangipani. Their sweet scent and sheer beauty make them universally loved and the blooms look sensational on the tree and as a cut flower. Pick up some freshly fallen blooms and float them in a bath or bowl of water and it’s easy to feel you’re relaxing in a fabulous tropical day spa!

Most familiar in their white and yellow form, they also come in loads of tropical and sunset colours, becoming more colourful the closer to the equator you go. Frangipanis are also tough plants that can survive neglect, heat and drought and still fill the garden with a wonderful perfume. What more could you ask for in a tree?

information

We have lots of information about frangipanis including technical details and varieties; history, facts and legends; and various names of frangipanis around the world. To go to a section, just click on the pictures below, or scroll down to see all of the information we have available.

description and varieties

Description & Varieties

This section provides a description of the plants available, and details the varieties most commonly kept in the home garden.


hostory, facts and legends

history, facts & legends

Did you know that frangipanis will only burn in extreme heat (over 500 degrees)? In this section, learn a little about the history of frangipanis, and some little known facts. We also share some myths and legends about frangipanis from around the world.


frangipani names

frangipani names

How did the frangipani get it's name? And the plumeria? In this secton, we give you the lowdown, not just on how they got their original names, but also what frangipanis are called around the world.

Description

Frangipanis are relatively small trees growing only to about 5-6m in height, but what they lack in height they make up in width often becoming as wide as they are tall. They have a well-behaved root system which makes them great for the home garden and for growing in pots. Frangipanis are also great survivors coping with drought, heat, neglect and insect and pest attack. They are also deciduous allowing maximum winter sun while providing shade in summer.

With its gnarled branches, long leaves and distinctive flowers, the frangipani is easily one of the most common and identifiable trees. The bark is grey/green and scaly in appearance. The scaling is formed when leaves drop in winter leaving small semi-circular marks on the bark. The branches have a swollen appearance and the leaves, dark green on the top and a lighter shade of green underneath, cluster at the tips of branches.  A cut made on any part of the tree will exude a milky, sticky sap that is poisonous to both humans and animals.

Frangipani flowers appear in clusters, also at the end of the branches, and are distinctively scented. The petals are waxy with the centre of the flower a different colour to the rest. For example the most common frangipani has white flowers with a yellow centre. There are many varieties ranging from deep crimson to orange , yellow and white (and every shade in between). Unlike some flowering trees which bloom for a few days or weeks, frangipanis go on flowering. Flowers appear from December to April in Australia, and even longer in warmer climates.

Varieties

Plumeria (common name Frangipani) is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical Americas. The genus consists of mainly deciduous shrubs and trees. From Mexico and Central America, Plumeria has spread to all tropical areas of the world, especially Hawaii, where it grows so abundantly that many people think that it is indigenous there.

Plumeria is related to the Oleander (Nerium oleander) and both possess poisonous, milky sap, rather similar to that of Euphorbia. Each of the separate species of Plumeria bears differently shaped leaves and their form and growth habits are also distinct.

Plumeria Obtusa is a mainly evergreen tree (decidous in dry seasons) with spreading branches and a rounded dome. Although its common name is "Singapore", it is originally from Colombia. Height to 8m and spread to 4m. Leaves are pointed and oval up to 18cm long. Tubular fragrant flowers occur in summer - autumn.

Plumeria Rubra (and variation Plumeria Acutifolia) also known as the Common Frangipani or Red Frangipani, is native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela. It is a decidous, spreading, sparsely branched tree or shrub with a height to 4m and spread to 4m and more. Produces fragrant flowers with 5 spreading petals, ranging from yellow to pink depending on form or cultivar, in summer to autumn. Leaves are lance shaped to oval, and 20cm to 30cm long.

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history

It is generally thought that frangipanis (plumerias) are native to South & Central America although some reports claim they are native to the Caribbean and were taken to the Americas by Spanish priests.

According to Steven Prowse, of Sacred Garden Plumeria’s, frangipanis arrived in Australia from South America via the Polynesian peoples who inter bred with the Melanesian peoples & established villages in the Melanesian region in what is now New Guinea. From there, frangipanis came to Australia via 2 routes.

The first was via the Torres Strait Islands which are between Australia and New Guinea and are less than a day’s paddle in a dugout canoe from either. The Torres Strait Islanders traded & interbred with both the New Guinea & Australian aboriginal peoples and brought the frangipani to both the Torres Straits and Australia. The islanders consider the frangipani a sacred plant.

The second & most important wave of frangipani introduction into Australia happened in the late 1800’s through to the 1920’s through Polynesian missionaries and, later, slaves. The missions were established in remote northern tropical regions of Australia by the Polynesian-based church missions who brought with them Polynesian & Melanesian Christians, coconuts & frangipanis. Most missions failed to survive long term in these disease, snake and crocodile-infested and cyclone-prone areas, and were abandoned. They eventually vanished into the tropical jungle with only the drought-hardy frangipanis surviving. Most of the more beautiful varieties of frangipani found in Australia were brought directly from Polynesia & Melanesia by these missionaries.

Later, gold mining and a pioneering sugar cane industry was established in parts of the region and the land had to be cleared by hand. The work was too dangerous, hot & difficult for the European settlers, who turned to the enslavement of captured Polynesians as forced labourers to establish their sugar cane plantations.  In time laws were changed and the Polynesian slaves were set free.

Many stayed and others returned to their Polynesian homelands bringing back family members and many varieties of their sacred frangipanis.

Today, frangipanis are found in most parts of Australia as they will tolerate a wide range of conditions and are probably one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting.  

Little-Known Facts about the Frangipani

  • Many Hawaiian leis are made from frangipani (Plumeria) flowers.
  • The colorful caterpillar of Pseudosphinx tetrio feeds only on the leaves of Plumeria rubra.
  • Cole Porter's song "A Stroll on the Plaza Sant' Ana" (from the musical Panama Hattie, 1940) mentions Plumeria.
  • Frangipanis are good hosts for dendrobium orchids.
  • The frangipani is the national tree of Laos, where it is called dok jampa. It is regarded as a sacred tree in Laos and every Buddhist temple in that country has them planted in their courtyards. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old and are spectacular, huge, gnarled giants.
  • The frangipani is the flower of the city of Palermo in Sicily, Italy.
  • The frangipani is the national flower of Nicaragua and it features on some of their bank notes.
  • Frangipanis won’t burn except in extreme (over 500 degrees) temperatures.
  • In Caribbean cultures the leaves are used as poultices (a healing wrap) for bruises and ulcers and the latex is used as a liniment for rheumatism.
  • According to Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (by Scott Cunningham; Llewellyn Publications, 1984) the frangipani (plumeria) is associated with the feminine, ruled by Venus, its element is water, its deity is Buddha, its power is love and its magical uses are in love spells.
  • The frangipani is also associated with love in feng shui.
  • In modern Polynesian culture, the frangipani can be worn by women to indicate their relationship status - over the right ear if seeking a relationship, and over the left if taken.
  • In India the frangipani is a symbol of immortality because of its ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of the soil. It is often planted near temples and graveyards, where the fresh flowers fall daily upon the tombs.
  • In Vietnam the frangipani is used for its healing qualities: the bark, mashed in alcohol, prevents skin inflammation, it is also used to treat indigestion and high blood pressure, while the roots have purgative effects on animals and the milk-like sap serves as a balm for skin diseases. The white flowers are used in traditional medicine to cure high blood pressure, haemophilia, cough, dysentery and fever.

Frangipani Myths and Legends

  • There is a theory that Catholic missionary priests spread frangipanis (Plumerias) around the world as they travelled. This may explain why the frangipani is so popular and common in the Philippines and Thailand but very rare in China and Vietnam. Thailand and the Philippines welcomed the Christian missionaries while, in China and Vietnam, they were persecuted until around the 1850s.
  • Frangipani trees were once considered taboo in Thai homes because of superstitious associations with the plant's Thai name, lantom, which is similar to ratom, the Thai word for sorrow. As a result, frangipanis were thought to bring unhappiness. Today, however, the blossoms are presented as fragrant offerings to Buddha and Thai people wear them on special festival days like Songkran (Thai New Year).
  • According to Vietnamese myth, ghosts live in trees with white and fragrant flowers including the frangipani. In Vietnam and China the colour white is associated with death and funerals.
  • In Hindu culture, the flower means loyalty. Hindu women put a flower in their hair on their wedding days to show their loyalty to their husbands.
  • It’s believed the Aztecs used a decoction of frangipani flowers and other plant materials mixed with certain internal organs of predatory animals (with a reputation for cunning, strength and bravery) as a powerful potion against fear, lethargy and faintheartedness.
  • "Warming" oils -- such as those from Plumeria, sandalwood, lotus flower, frankinense, cinnamon and basil -- are said to have a calming influence on those suffering from fear, anxiety, insomnia or tremors, according to the principles of Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old Indian holistic science that seeks to balance mind, body and spirit.
  • A popular legend among sailors shipping overseas from Hawaii during WWII was to toss a lei into the waters as the ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, the sailor would return. If it floated toward the ship, he wouldn't be coming back.
  • In the language of flowers, Frangipani (Plumeria) are said to stand for love long in absence, as for a sailor long at sea.
  • Frangipani (Plumeria) is very rare in China, and even more precious than orchids. So, when a person gives frangipani flowers to a sweetheart, it is the closest thing to saying you're special, I love you in a culture where expression of personal feelings is frowned upon.
  • According to Mexican (Lakandon) myth the gods were born from Frangipani (Plumeria) flowers.
  • In Malay folklore the scent of the frangipani is associated with a vampire, the pontianak.

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how the frangipani and plumeria got their names

The name "Plumeria" is attributed to Charles Plumier, a 17th Century French botanist who described several tropical species, although according to author Peter Loewer, Plumier was not the first to describe Plumeria. That honour goes to Francisco de Mendoza, a Spanish priest who did so in 1522.

The name, frangipani, comes from the Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century. When the frangipani flower was discovered its natural perfume reminded people of the scented gloves, and so the flower was called frangipani. Another version has it that the name, frangipani, is from the French frangipanier which is a type of coagulated milk that Plumeria milk resembles.

other plants which go under the name frangipani

The Climbing Frangipani or Frangipani Vine is not a Plumeria, but Chonemorpha Fragans (although it belongs to the same family, Apocynaceae).

The Australian Native Frangipani is not a Plumeria either. Hymenosporum Flavum belongs to the family Pittosporaceae.

frangipani names around the world

The botanic name is Plumeria. Around the world the frangipani (plumeria) is called:

  • The Aztec word is Cocaloxochite.
  • Tipanier in Tahiti.
  • Dok jampa  or Dok champa in Laos
  • Pomelia and Frangipane in Italy
  • Couleuvre, or Snake Tree in St.Barths Bois
  • Kemboja kuning in Malaysia
  • Pansal Mal in Sri Lanka
  • Jepun in Bali, Indonesia
  • Flor de Mayo in Yucatan, Puebla, El Salvador
  • Flor de la Cruz in Guatemala
  • Pumeli or Melia in Hawaii
  • Amapola in Venezuela
  • Kang Nai Xin in China
  • Phool in India
  • Hoa Su (Southern ), Hoa Dai (Northern) and Hoa Su Ma (ghost Plumeria) in Vietnam
  • Kalachuchi in the Philippines
  • Flor de Cebo in the Canary Islands
  • Sacuanjoche in Nicaragua (the name is derived from the word "xacuan" from a native language called náhuatl and means "precious yellow feather or flower".
  • Common names are Temple Tree or Pagoda Tree in India and the Far East, Graveyard Tree in the Caribbean Islands, Temple Flower in Sri Lanka, and May flower (for the time of flowering) in Nicaragua.

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