Plumeria (Frangipani)FrangipaniDeciduous plant with fragrant flowersIn...

Plumeria (Frangipani)


Deciduous plant with fragrant flowers

In one’s mind, the sweetly fragrant, exotic-looking flowers of frangipani are immediately associated with Hawaii. Called pua melia in the islands, frangipani is the flower most commonly used in leis, because its brightly colored blooms remain fresh for a long time. The surprise is that frangipani is not native to Hawaii at all but to tropical Mexico. In 1860, William Hildebrand introduced what is now known as Hawaiian Yellow to Hawaii. The rest is history.

Although frangipani is not easy to grow, it’s a good landscape plant when grouped with succulents and cacti, such as agave and aloe. In the same family as oleanders, it is drought tolerant and can take the heat (it grows well in the desert, in filtered sun).


Its fragrant clusters of waxy flowers--white, light to deep rose pink or yellow--bloom in mid-summer. Whites and yellows are the most fragrant, and yellow is the easiest to grow.

New introductions include Sherman White; Hawaiian Flag, a multicolor; Red Candy Stripe, Pink Sunrise and Miniature Singapore, which will attain the size of a small tree. A fast grower, frangipani typically reaches 3 to 6 feet. Some varieties, such as Plastic Pink, are taller and leggier.

Looking Their Best

Specimens can be seen at the Huntington Botanical Gardens (in the Jungle Garden and on Subtropical Hill), at L.A. State and County Arboretum, surrounding the pool at the Disneyland Hotel and at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Plant frangipani in the warmest part of the garden in soil that drains well. To bloom, it must have at least half a day of sun, and a high-phosphorous fertilizer will help. It should be watered thoroughly but not often--it can’t be grown in lawn areas that require frequent watering.

Protect it from the cold; freezing temperatures can cause the plant’s oblong leaves or the tips of its branches to burn. If a plant does go through a cold night, check later to see that the stem is alive and wait for spring for signs of revival.

Frangipani’s loose, fleshy-stemmed structure should be trimmed to keep the plant bushy (it has a tendency to start looking ratty). It loses its leaves once a year when it goes dormant (discontinue irrigation during this time, starting again in the spring). Pests include mites and thrips.

Sold in 1-, 2-, 5- and 7-gallon containers, frangipani is at nurseries now, such as Armstrong Garden Centers, San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel, Roger’s Gardens and the Green Thumb International/Green Arrow chain. Your local nursery can order frangipani for you from Marilynn’s Garden in Stanton, a wholesale grower that offers about 30 different colors.