Down in the Garden: Fabulous Frangipani

As the festive season blankets many parts of the world with images of snow, holly and winter dusted pine trees, here on the East Coast of Australia we look forward to the warm summer nights filling with the perfume of delightful frangipani (Plumeria spp.).

So deep is our love affair with this easy to grow tree that one could easily be mistaken in thinking it was one of our natural natives.

In fact, it is native to Central America and Mexico – but, fortunately, it just feels right at home here on the Central Coast.

Frangipani History

Early written history shows frangipani was favoured by the early Mayans.

The Aztecs also used frangipani in elixirs to instil bravery in their warriors as well as beat general lethargy.

Myths that have persisted into modern day in Mexico tell of gods being born from frangipani flowers.

The tree is now found in suitable environments throughout the world.

Priests shared frangipani throughout the world while travelling and establishing missions.

At some point, it became the floral emblem of the city of Palermo, Sicily and the national tree of Nicaragua and of Laos where it is held as most sacred.

All Buddhist temples across this country have a frangipani tree growing in their gardens as a connection to this sacredness.

Hindu brides wear them as a symbol of their loyalty to their husbands and in China they are given to lovers to say ‘you are special and ‘I love you’ because of their rarity in this land.

Across Polynesia the frangipani is worn by women to indicate their relationship status – behind the left ear if they are taken and the right if they are seeking a new partner.

The Language of Flowers tells us frangipani means love that will withstand distance, freedom, welcome, immortality, strength and love in general.

Where, When and How

Most of us have the room to bring frangipani into our lives and gardens.

They are slow growing, in fact most only grow about 20cm per year, and while this may not suit the impatient ‘instant tree’ folk, it is a trait that makes them perfect for many other uses.

This along with their non-invasive, small ball, makes this summer favourite perfect for just about anywhere including large containers that can sit happily on sunny balconies and patios.

Remember, Frangipani sap is toxic and a skin irritant so care must be taken with placement and with handling during gardening.

You will also need to be aware that frangipani will take a few years until the first flowers appear and that the vast majority are deciduous, meaning they will lose all their foliage in winter.

Most standard types attaining a height of up to 6m with an umbrella shape to them and while they will tolerate light frosts, frangipani do far better in frost-free areas.

They need a free-draining sandy soil and detest getting wet feet so be careful not to overwater.

In winter, watering should be ceased altogether unless usually dry or hot days occur.

If you have a clay soil, they will struggle, and this is the number one reason this beautiful tree fails to thrive and can even die.

Although they can grow in most places, sun is critical and full sun most of the day is required.

They also respond very well to a fish-based fertiliser and seaweed-based fertilisers and an increase in phosphorus can boost your summer flower show.

Ensure that the root area is well mulched but allow space around the trunk to avoid water pooling.

The Colours of Summer

Aside from its delectable perfume, frangipani is now available in over 300 identified colourways – that’s right, 300!

They will generally flower across the Central Coast from late November through until mid-April.

From whites through to creams, yellows, oranges, apricots, pinks of all shades to vibrant reds and on to even purple shades.

Here are a few that you might consider for your garden.

(A little tip, any named ‘ruba’ will have the strongest scent.)

Common Frangipani (Plumeria alba) big beautiful trees and the stuff that millions of artworks, textile and home décor designs are based on.

Fruit Salad Frangipani (Pulmeria acutifolia ‘Rubra’) is what grows in my garden and is my firm favourite.

They are a tricolour plant variety that has a yellow centre melting to white and then tinged in pinks.

Petite Pink Frangipani (Plumeria obtusa Dwarf) a popular potted frangipani that also works well as a hedge.

Singapore Plumeria (Plumeria obtusa) also known as Pagoda Tree and Singapore Graveyard Tree; this frangipani grows sweetly fragrant flowers in bunches.

Darwin Blood Red Frangipani (Plumeria ruba) is probably a must for tropical inspired gardens with its brilliant re blossoms and deep coloured branches.

North Queensland Blue Frangipani (Plumeria spp.) with its intoxicating fragrance and what appear to be blue flowers, this rare variety is much desired plant collectors and the frangipani obsessed. The blooms are not really blue but rather a light dusty purple that appear blue to the eye.

Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) is not related to what we think of as ‘frangipani’ and although the fragrance is similar, closer observation will bear this out – the trees have a distinctive bark, are evergreen and the flowers are a lot smaller in size.

Frangipani Propagation

If you already have a magnificent frangipani or have found a neighbourhood specimen that you are lusting after, the best news is that creating a new frangipani tree is easy!

You simply plant a branch in a pot, or the ground and a new tree is born.

A few tips though to ensure your baby grows up health and strong. Cuttings can be taken at any time but the best time to ensure viability is to take a cutting from an existing tree from late spring to early summer.

Hurry up -there is still time.

There are a few methods of propagation, but this is my tried-and-true Coastie-method.

Carefully remove any flowers and leaves from the lower 6cm and then place upright along an outside shaded wall or fence that is protected from rain and water for about a month.

You could also keep in a dry and well-ventilated shed or garage.

Once the end has completely dried out, plant into a pot of course sand and water well. Continue watering weekly and once roots form, transplant into your desired final position.

Frangipani can be grown from seed and the interesting thing is that you will not obtain the exact same plant as you have.

If you are lucky enough to have seed pods appear on your frangipani then by all means plant and look forward to a surprise.

These seed pods do not always occur because their pollinator, the Sphinx Moth (Sphingidae), is not endemic to our areas.

You can assist pollination by hand using fine wire to move pollen around the throat of the flowers.

Healthcare

Tip: Pruning is not recommended at all and, if done, it is preferable to remove entire branches.

Pruning outer/upper branches away will encourage, like most plants, a denser appearance as additional lower branches will then shoot.

If your tree is very large, then you may also find that removing a few branches will assist the tree to become healthier and stronger as there will be less competition for food, sunlight and water.

Occasionally in a frangipani with numerous branches, you may find inner and lower branches appearing black and withering – this is usually because small branches within the tree structure are not receiving adequate sunlight and need to be removed quickly before the rot sets in.

To prune your frangipani use a sharp handsaw or loppers or even a chainsaw and ensure all cuts are vertical to stop pooling of water on the open areas to avoid rot.

This tree can suffer from what is known as ‘frangipani rust’.

It looks like the leaves are mottled in brown and dark patches on the top of leaves and you will see yellow pustules beneath them.

A copper-based fungicide is the answer and must be applied to all surfaces and dropped leaves disposed of in the regular rubbish bin (but if the tree is overly affected, unfortunately you may have to remove entirely).

UPCOMING GARDEN EVENTS

This week I’m sharing a few online events and upcoming courses for those ‘stuck at home’:

Sydney University – Beginner Gardening Course is enrolling now https://cce.sydney.edu.au/course/GDNB

Virtual Tour of Sydney Royal Botanic Garden – https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/Learn/Living-Learning/Virtual-Tours

Free Online Kids Gardening Ideas and classes – https://www.kidspot.com.au/things-to-do/collection/gardening-for-kids

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 9am every Saturday on Coast FM.

Send your gardening questions, events and news to: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com

Share this story