A Gardening Journal
Today in Key West: Frangipani
- Published: March 02 2016
Frangipani is the extremist among tropical trees that shed their leaves for the Winter. It drops its foliage promptly when temperatures fall into the sixties Fahrenheit, let alone the fifties or cooler. And then the tree waits weeks or even months after the return of sustained warmth to grow new ones. Regardless of whether the climate never sees temperatures below the mid-fifties—at Caribbean resorts, say—Plumeria rubra often remains leafless and flowerless until the Winter tourist season is over.
And so, here in Key West during the depths of what passes for Winter—a day or two in the sixties!—it was a week before I chanced upon any frangipani with more than a first tentative leaf, let alone a single small cluster of flowers. Intead, this pastel form is in full flower months ahead of the rest. It graces a modest cottage clearly of Key West residents, who can enjoy its flowers in Spring, Summer, and Fall, too.
There are scores of forms of Plumeria other than this pale pink, white, and yellow one. The range extends from pure white through yellow, pink, rose, orange, scarlet, and cerise—and in multicolors as well as singles. Foliage is nearly always green, but there are a few scarce-as-hen's-teeth forms with foliage that is purple or gold.
Waxy pointed buds project above each dense cluster of flowers like new shades of lipstick on display at a department store counter. And although the visual interest of the flowers is all in the petals—the pistil and stamens are hidden in the flowers' narrow tubular bases—these blossoms are anything but dull. Then, there's the fragrance: Frangipani finds its way into perfumes for good reason.
Right across the street is a Plumeria with the more typical Winter look. If you don't know the leafless state is normal even when temperatures have returned to the eighties, at least during the day, you might think that the tree is dead.
Drought-tolerant, deciduous (normally) all Winter, and in bloom at a young age and mostly in Summer even where native, Plumeria would seem to be the ideal tree for Northerners to grow in containers.
What are we all waiting for?
I'll profile a couple of cultivars of Plumeria rubra when I can feature them as containered specimens in flower in my garden.