Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension    P. O. Box 68    LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068    Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Frangipani - Well Known Exotic Tropical

Frangipani (Plumeria sp.) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and delightful plants grown in the world.  Frangipani, also known as Plumeria, or as the Hawaiian lei flower, is a well known exotic tropical.  The genus "Plumeria" is not native to North America.  They originated in Central America and the Caribbean Islands and are now enjoyed worldwide due to their human interest and appeal.
Frangipani is well known for its intensely fragrant, lovely, spiral shaped blooms which appear at branch tips from around April through November. Plumeria alba has white flowers with yellow centers while Plumeria rubra produces red toned flowers. Plumeria obtusa has white blooms centered in yellow and is variable in form and color. There are many other selections of Frangipani which display a variety of flower colors.

 The tree itself is rather unusual in appearance; the 20-inch-long, coarse, deciduous leaves clustered only at the tips of the rough, blunt, sausage-like, thick, grey-green branches. Branches are upright and rather crowded on the trunk forming a vase or umbrella shape with age. They are rather soft and brittle and can break but are usually sturdy unless they are mechanically hit or disturbed. A milky sap is exuded from the branches when they are bruised or punctured.

Frangipani is a small tree that may eventually reach a height of 20 to 25 feet, but most specimens are smaller than this. It's small stature lends itself to a number of landscape applications.  Frangipani works well as a freestanding specimen, a patio tree, or as part of a shrubbery border. It displays well in a front yard as an attention-grabber by the entrance. It can be grown with a single trunk or branched low to the ground into a multi-trunked specimen. Single-trunk specimens could be planted as median or street trees on 15 to 20- foot-centers. They can be maintained as a shrub or small tree grown in a container on the patio or in the garden.

It is also recommended for use in small to medium-sized parking lot islands, buffer strips around parking lots and for median strip plantings in the highway.  These trees have outstanding ornamental features and  have winter interest due to their unusual form.

Frangipani are fairly hardy and easy to grow. They can easily be grown outdoors in USDA climactic zones 10 and 11.  Frangipani is susceptible to freezing temperatures and should be adequately protected or planted only in areas which do not freeze in the winter. In warmer areas of zone nine, they may be injured by frost but generally recover within a season.

Plants will grow quickly in full sun. They will perform satisfactorily in partial sun but Plumeria require at least a half day of full sun to produce blooms. They are adapted to a wide range of well-drained soils and are fairly drought and salt-tolerant.

Plants should be allowed to dry out between watering, but excessive dryness will result in foliage loss. On the other hand, the soil should never be kept soggy wet.

A consistent feeding program will produce vigorous plants with large ostentatious clusters of  flowers from May through November. Plumeria require fertilizer high in phosphorus (the middle number). To keep the plant compact, avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen. Feed the plant every other week, but discontinue feeding in September to allow new growth to harden prior to winter storage.

Plumeria require pruning to develop strong trunk structure. The wood is weak and is susceptible to breakage either at the crotch or branches due to poor collar formation.  In addition, the branches tend to droop as the tree grows, and require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy.

Plumeria are propagated from cuttings or seeds. Seed pods are produced in abundance in some species and many hybrids. Seed pods take about eight months to mature. They are easily noticeable on the plants, are of smooth texture and brown to reddish-brown in color. There are two drawbacks to growing plants from seeds. Growing seedlings will not guarantee color true to the parent plant but does offer the excitement of developing new varieties. Second, seedlings usually do not produce blooms for three to four years.

The only way to guarantee a duplicate of the parent is by cuttings.  March through May is the best time to make cuttings. Large hardwood cuttings should be allowed to dry several days while leafy tip cuttings should be planted immediately.  Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone, and plant in a well-drained soil. Water a minimum amount the first two months until roots form to prevent rot. Cuttings will normally flower in the second year.
Plumeria are fairly resistant to insects and diseases. Some common pests of this tree are scales, frangipani caterpillar, and spider mites. The rare attack of spider mites is easily controlled with an insecticidal soap.
No diseases are of major concern. Root rot can infect plants planted in soils with poor drainage. Rust disease occasionally infects foliage.  Rust is common in the fall and may result in premature defoliation. It can be controlled with fungicide but does not cause any long term harm to the tree.

These enchanting little flowering trees can be delightful addition to almost any landscape and deserve wider use.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

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