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Wednesday’s Flower: Frangipani (Plumeria)

Even the fallen flowers are beautiful.

Even the fallen flowers are beautiful.

On a recent visit to Darwin in the far north of Australia, I was struck by the variety of frangipani on display. The tree is widely planted here in Sydney, but mostly the flowers are a simple white with yellow centre. I’ve since learned that the closer to the equator, the more variety there is in colour.

frangipani - plumeria

The deep yellow with purple hints of these petals …

frangipani - plumeria

… contrast with the pinks, reds and oranges of these petals.

Among English speakers, the trees are commonly called both frangipani (for example, in Australia) and plumeria (for example, in the US). “Plumeria” is the genus to which they belong (in honor of the seventeenth-century French botanist Charles Plumier). “Frangipani” comes from an Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century; when the plant was discovered, the flowers’ scent reminded people of the gloves’ scent — apparently. Or it might come the French word frangipanier, a type of coagulated milk that Plumeria sap resembles. Take your pick! (source)

Whatever their etymology, the range of petal shapes, scents and colours make these flowers spectacular.

frangipani - plumeria

Simple white with a spot of yellow in the centre. You can see the clustered flowering pattern.

frangipani - plumeria

Another view of a cluster of flowers at the end of a stalk. The tree itself is a not especially attractive!

And this is the variety most commonly seen in Sydney: Plumeria rubra acutifolia.