Plumeria is a genus of flowering plants that are a proud member of the apocynaceae botanical family, which is more commonly known as the dogbane family. Though botanists may call them plumeria, non-experts like to called them frangipani flowers!
The genus consists of numerous different small, flowering trees and shrubs, though the main thing that they all have in common is exceptionally gorgeous flowers.
Depending on the variety and growing region, they will grow either as an evergreen plant (leaves remaining green and persisting all year long) or deciduous plant (leaves falling away as cold weather approaches and returning in the spring).
Today we’re going to focus on the frangipani flower. Though it may be heard under a different name depending on the region, variety, and overall attitude of the gardener, all names are appropriate for this flowering plant.
In Hawaii they are known as the Lei flower, since they are the flower most commonly used to decorate a lei!
What do Plumeria Plants Look Like?
The plumeria flower is so perfectly designed, that it is sometimes hard to believe that it can exist so perfectly in nature. These flowers are comprised of 5 petals that are arranged in a slightly spiralling pattern.
Plumeria flowers will often bloom from the early spring, all through the summer, and well into fall. These fragrant flowers will be colors ranging from yellow to pink, or red to white. They’ll often have differently colored throats as adornment as well.
Though plumeria flowers smell exceptionally lovely – different species have differing scents, like jasmine, citrus, gardenia, rose, or peach – they don’t actually produce any nectar.
Pollinating species like moths, bees, and butterflies, will always visit the flowers and still pick up the pollen for dispersal, but the search for nectar will always be fruitless from plumeria blooms.
Depending on the species, a plumeria plant will grow as either a deciduous tree or an evergreen tree. A deciduous tree will lose its leaves when cold weather approaches and the will emerge again in the spring. An evergreen tree will have leaves that remain green and persist all year long.
Plumeria trees commonly have large leaved foliage. A leaf can grow to be over 20 inches in length. They are commonly very glossy and deep green. They are borne at the end of branches and grow in whorls.
Commonly, a plumeria tree will have branches that split away from the trunk rather close to the ground, creating a beautiful lattice design.
Trees can grow anywhere up to 40 feet in height, though if contained they can also stick around closer to 5-10 feet tall, making them a very manageable size for gardens and balconies.
What are Some Plumeria Species?
Red Jasmine (Plumeria Rubra)
Also known simply as frangipani, red frangipani, or common frangipani, plumeria rubra is a deciduous tree that native to Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela.
They have become cultivated all over the world, mostly in tropical and subtropical places, for their incredible ornamental quality. You’ll often see them growing in gardens and parks.
P rubra is a smaller tree that only grow to be between 2 and 3 metres tall. They bloom with incredible flower blossoms that can range from pink, yellow or white. Indicated by their common name, these trees produce flowers that have an intoxicating jasmine scent.
Singapore Graveyard Flower (Plumeria Obtusa)
Plumeria obtusa, or the Singapore graveyard flower is native to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, the West Indies, and Florida. This is an even smaller tree, only growing to heights of 10-15 feet, making them the perfect ornamental garden tree.
The P obtusa variety differs in that it produces bright white flowers with a yellow center as accent. The flowers emerge as clusters and are highly contrasted against very dark green foliage that is tear shaped.
Caterpillar Tree (Plumeria Alba)
Plumeria alba has many other names. You may also hear it under the name caterpillar tree, pigeon wood tree, or white frangipani. Possibly one of the most popular ornamental varieties, this is the perfect size for a balcony tree.
Plumeria alba produces white flowers with 5 simple petals that are thinner than other varieties. These petals are adorned with yellow throats as well, and they have a very striking scent to them.
Where are Plumeria Plants Native to?
Plumeria is a native tropical plant to warm places like the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. They will grow as far south as Brazil, and as far north as Florida.
Since their original endemic growth, plumeria plants have become naturalized in many other tropical and subtropical regions as well. They can exist in USDA zone 10 through 12.
When growing wild, you can find them prosperous in well drained soil and in full sun exposure. They are tolerant to both salt air and wind, and are very happy living along coasts. Then again, wouldn’t we all be?
How do you Propagate a Plumeria Plant?
Gardening doesn’t have to be an intimidating thing. The world needs more plants, which sometimes requires more gardeners! Luckily for us, plumeria plants are wonderfully easy to grow all by yourself. The best way to do this is by taking plumeria cuttings and propagating them.
Pick a Spot
The first, and sometimes the most tricky step to introducing a new plant, is picking the perfect spot for them. When it comes to plumerias, make sure you pick a spot that receives direct sunlight. This means a minimum of 6 hours of full sun exposure per day!
Next, make sure that the soil they are planted in is well draining and has a slightly acidic ph level. Growing plumeria can be very simple as long as they are in the right type of soil!
Whether you get your stem cuttings from a nursery or from a friend, it is best to start your propagation process in the early spring. Let the cutting dry out at the base before planting it. This is because cuttings are quite susceptible to root rot, and we don’t want to start out like that!
Applying some root hormone to the clean cut stem will help the propagation process along. Make sure to start this out indoors if you live in a colder area, but you can start out directly outside if you’re lucky enough to live in the tropics.
From here on out, caring for a plumeria plant is wildly easy to do. Give them fertilizer every couple of weeks during their growing season, allow soil to dry out completely between waterings, and you should have some amazingly fragrant blossoms decorating your property in no time at all.
If you live in a tropical place, you can keep your plumeria plant outside all year long. There are many evergreen species that will color your property all year long!
If you live in a place that experiences cold winters, you will have to have your plumeria as an indoor container plant that comes inside before it starts to get very cold.
What are the Growing Conditions of Plumerias?
You’ll quickly find that despite their beauty, plumerias are remarkably low maintenance plants. They can live in nearly any soil type, and are also tolerant to mineral heavy soils which is quite rare! They’re also not too about soil that is high in nutrients.
The main condition that they have for their soil is that it is properly well drained. This is because plumeria trees are rather susceptible to root rot. Other than that, having slightly acidic soil will help it right along as well. Cactus mix actually makes for a great medium to plant plumeria in.
Plumeria trees are sun loving creatures, this means that they prefer to have a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. That being said, they are tolerant to partial shade as well.
Based off of their natural growing regions, you would expect plumeria plants to require a ton of moisture, but that is not the case! They are actually an incredibly drought tolerant plant, which is great for that hands-off type of gardener.
Simply ensure that you allow soil to dry out completely between waterings. Stop watering entirely when the winter months approach so that the plant goes into dormancy. When it comes to plumeria, under-watering is always better than over-watering.
One of the most specific requirements of the plumeria plant is temperature. It is not at all tolerant to cold or frost. It is happiest in temperatures that hover between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It will go into dormancy once temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plumeria plants respond very well to fertilizer. You can fertilize them with a low nitrogen fertilizer every 2-3 weeks during their active growing season. This will help encourage healthy and long lasting flower blossoms.
Pruning a plumeria tree is rather simple as well. They don’t need any hard pruning done to them at all. Simply trim away any branches that appear as sickly or broken to help properly divide energy to the remainder of the tree.
At the end of the day, there really isn’t all that much that the plumeria plant can’t handle. It won’t be too happy if you keep it outside in the cold, and it certainly won’t be singing your praises if you keep its soil overly moist. But those are easy things to avoid if you’re paying attention!
How are Plumeria Plants Used?
Plumerias are most loved for their ornamental quality – but can you blame anyone for that? These extraordinary flowering plants are a pleasure to look at and to smell, and they’re easy to grow to boot!
When grown as a potted plant they make for a great patio tree, as this growth restriction will keep them to a manageable 5-15 feet in height. Since they can grow to be a rather small tree, they can always be kept indoors if you happen to live in a colder area, but you’re still looking for that tropical plant look inside!