Plant Collector: Frangipani

The intoxicating fragrance of frangipani (or plumeria)

The intoxicating fragrance of frangipani (or plumeria)

Alas, these frangipani are not growing in our own garden. We were in Sydney last week where they are common in home gardens. We have two plants here which we have managed to get to a good size in pots and we plan to give them optimum conditions in the hottest possible, sheltered position at the front of the house because the fragrance is just to die for. I am sorry we don’t have the exotic rosy pink and yellow form, but only the more common white with a golden centre, more correctly known as Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia but frangipani will do just fine, thank you. There are dark red forms too.

Despite the fact that they are common in the Pacific islands and throughout Asia, frangipani originate from Central America (think Mexico, Venezuela and the Caribbean) and therein lies the problem – they are tropical but we are not. They are of the large deciduous shrub to small tree class, but very sappy plants so more akin to some of the larger euphorbias in growth. They will grow happily in pretty tough conditions as long as they never get cold or waterlogged.

What is often called the Australian frangipani is a totally different plant. It is an evergreen tree, usually very large though there are some smaller selections becoming available, and is in fact Hymenosporum flavum. Being a Queensland forest tree, it is not quite as tropical as plumeria but neither is it as exotic and attractive in bloom. We will keep to the plumeria and hope for that unmistakable scent of the tropics in summer.