- Education and Science
The Beautiful Plumeria
The Tropical Tree
As I prepare for another winter in Mexico, thoughts of the sights, sounds and smells of the country permeate my mind.
Although one may think that the taqueria may be foremost in this Mexican food lover's mind, or lounging in the sun on the beach, I actually look forward to the sight and scent of my favorite flower, the plumeria.
Plumeria, also known as Frangipani, is a genus of tropical flowering plants native to America. Plumeria is mostly a deciduous shrub or tree, thriving in the warm climate of the tropics. Plumeria can be propagated from cuttings or seeds; however, the seeds are not true to the parent plant. This is why there are many different varieties and color combinations of the flowers.
The plumeria is a trickster in the natural world. They are most fragrant at night, and are sought out by moths which are attracted to their sweet scent. However, they produce no nectar, and the moths pollinate the flowers by scurrying from one blossom to another, in a futile search for nectar.
The plumeria is related to the oleander plant, and also has a milky sap which is toxic: Dangerous if ingested and irritating to skin and eyes. This is the how the plant protects itself from being consumed by animals that feed on foliage. Much like a rose has thorns, the beautiful plumeria has it's own defense.
Flowers in Culture
After being introduced to the tropical regions in Hawaii and South East Asia, the Plumeria has been used in many different ways. The plumeria blossoms are popular in flowery necklaces known as Leis, which in Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji are given as a symbol of affection. As well, the flowers will be worn behind the ear of ladies to declare their relationship status: Behind the right ear if available for relationship, or behind the left ear if the woman is "taken."
In Hindu and Buddhist cultures, the plumeria tree has been planted in graveyards and temples, as it is believed to house spirits. This practice has given the flowering tree the name Temple Tree. Plumeria has been used extensively in temple offerings.
Grow Your Own
Growing plumeria is no an easy thing to do, but it can be done with patience and vigilance.
Seeds and cuttings can be purchased online. Start seeds in pots, keep the soil moist and give them plenty of sunlight. They should sprout in around three weeks. With cuttings, planting them with root hormone in a mixture of perlite and peat or potting soil topped with pea gravel. Do not over-water your plumeria. The soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Give it plenty of sunlight and in about three months you should have a well-developed root ball. Replant your plumeria and keep it warm, giving it lots of sunlight. Cross your fingers for flowers!
I know many women who like roses, orchids and carnations. I know a few who even like daisies. But to me, the plumeria is the most beautiful in its simplicity and scent. I look forward to finding these flowering trees once I get to my Mexican destination.