Have you ever gone on vacation and run into someone who seemed to fit in perfectly, only to realize they’re not really from around here?
That seems to be a very common problem for Plumeria (ploo-MEER-ee-a), a genus of 11 species and hundreds of cultivars found worldwide.
Plumerias are native to the Caribbean and South to Central America from Brazil to Mexico.
However, they were introduced to Hawai’i in 1860 by German biologist Dr. William Hillebrand and have become so well naturalized that they are often known as the Hawaiian lei flower (or melia, in Hawai’ian).
Plumeria alba has become the national flower of Laos, while Plumeria rubra is the national flower of Nicaragua, despite being imported to both countries.
This perennial member of the Apocynaceae (dogbane) family is considered sacred to both Buddhists and Hindi.
Its other common names include champa, frangipani (named for a 16th-century Italian nobleman who supposedly created a similar-smelling perfume), temple tree, and yasmin.
Other popular species and cultivars include P. obtusa, P. pudica, P. stenophylla, and the hybrid P. x stenopetala.
Size & Growth
Plumerias are extremely versatile and will adjust their growth to fit containers.
This means you can select a species that reaches 25′ to 40′ foot tall outdoors and end up with a 10′ foot tall indoor tree or 15′ feet tall in a patio container.
Some species and cultivars are even smaller, forming smaller shrubs as little as 3′ feet tall.
Likewise, the width of your plant may vary, with container plants generally reaching 3 to 5′ feet across.
The trunks of Plumeria are evergreen and continue to photosynthesize even if the tree or bush is barren due to the local climate.
As a result, this genus tends to be fast-growing.
The branches form intricate latticeworks tipped with 20″ inch long, whorled glossy to dull green leaves.
Flowering and Fragrance
From May through September, your Plumeria will be covered in clusters of stunning, star-shaped blooms.
These intoxicatingly fragrant flowers attract pollinators and vary from a rose or gardenia scent to peach or citrus, depending on the species.
This scent is a lure to trick sphynx moths into spreading the plant’s pollen while trying to find the nonexistent nectar.
As a result, it’s usually strongest at night.
The blooms themselves may be solid or multicolored and display a wide array of colors, including shades of orange, pink, salmon, red, white, and yellow.
Compact plants tend to produce more blooms, and clusters can have 50 to 200 individual flowers.
When fertilized, a species may produce seed pods, although cultivars tend to be barren.
The seeds can produce plants resembling the parent or, when cross-pollinated with other plumeria species, may produce unique hybrids.
Light & Temperature
As a tropical plant, plumerias prefer at least 6 hours of full sun, although they can grow under fluorescent lights that are left on for 14 to 15 hours per day.
Try to ensure they get moderate humidity, augmenting with a pebble tray or humidifier if needed.
You can grow Plumeria outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 11, although it’s also possible in some sheltered portions of zone 9b.
Indoors, aim for an ambient temperature between 65° and 85° degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid exposing your temple plant to temperatures below 55° degrees Fahrenheit, as this can cause dieback and eventually kill the plant if the roots become sufficiently chilled.
The plant will interpret temperatures of 60° degrees Fahrenheit or below to signify that it’s time to go dormant, and deciduous varieties may begin dropping leaves as a result.
Watering and Feeding
It’s easy to overwater your frangipani, which leads to root rot, but the plant is drought tolerant.
As a result, it’s far better to underwater than overwater.
Wait until the soil is dry, about 2″ to 3″ inches down to the touch, and give the plant a deep watering.
Reduce watering around mid-fall and stop watering the plant completely when it goes dormant until you see new growth in the spring.
Pick a good liquid fertilizer to use on your Plumeria that has low nitrogen and high phosphorous.
Too much nitrogen will make your Plumeria plant leggy, while not enough phosphorous will reduce the blooms.
Liquid fertilizers with an NPK of 10-30-10 or similar will work wonders and should be applied monthly from spring through September.
Soil & Transplanting
Plumerias need fast-draining soil, so a blend of 1 part cactus or citrus mix and 2 parts perlite can work wonders.
You should repot your Plumeria annually to avoid root binding.
This is usually best done while the plant is dormant in late fall to winter.
Grooming And Maintenance
Prune throughout the year to remove damaged or diseased branches, cutting at the branch’s base with sterile shears.
Be careful not to damage the bark while pruning for size or shape.
How To Propagate Temple Tree
The most common method for propagating frangipani is through stem cuttings.
If your plant is an actual species instead of a cultivar, it’s also possible to propagate using seeds, but cultivars will seldom produce viable seed pods.
Frangipani Pests or Diseases
These plants are somewhat drought tolerant but are highly intolerant of cold.
Root rot is the primary threat to these plants, although they can develop an orange powdery infection called plumeria rust.
Mealybugs and whiteflies can be an issue, but plumeria stem borers and spider mites are a more serious problem with this genus.
While not known to be poisonous to humans or pets, the sap contains compounds that may cause itchiness, irritation, or rash on some individuals.
It is also believed the sap can cause temporary blindness, so wear gloves or wash after handling.
Plumeria is best known for being used to make Hawai’ian leis but is also commonly planted at Buddhist and Hindi temples and in cemeteries.