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Plumeria commonly known as Frangipani is a genus of flowering plants in the Family Apocynaceae (dogbane family). It is native to the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and South America. It grows well in both tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Plumeria flowers appear in clusters, also at the end of the branches, and are distinctively scented.

A mature Plumeria tree
A mature Plumeria tree

The petals are waxy with the centre of the flower a different colour to the rest. For example the most common Plumeria has white flowers with a yellow centre. There are many varieties ranging from deep crimson to orange, yellow and white.

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Plumeria plant with crimson white petals, the centre is still yellow in colour

Unlike some flowering trees which bloom for a few days or weeks, Plumeria goes on flowering. Flowers appear from December to April in Australia, and even longer in warmer climates.

 

The half flower of Plumeria. The petals are waxy, white in colour with a yellow centre.
The half flower of Plumeria. The petals are waxy, white in colour with a yellow centre.

 

 

Drawing of the half flower
Drawing of the half flower

 

Some botanists think that because the petal and the sepals fused together to form the perianth.

The 'sepals' of the flower
The ‘sepals’ of the flower

 

But the structure shown above may be sepals. It seems that it is not one piece, but made up of several pieces, probably 5.

The magnified view showing the structures are made up of several parts probably 5 parts.
The magnified view of the ‘sepals’ with the corolla tube removed. The structures are made up of several parts probably 5 parts.

 

The stamen is made up of anther and filament. There are 5 stamens and they are attached onto the corolla tube, this is known as epipetalous.

The pistil is made up of stigma, style and ovary. It seems that the flower has two unicarpellate ovaries instead of a single ovary with two carpels. The reason is the presence of a thick separation between the two ovaries.

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The lower part of the flower has been magnified to show the stamens and the pistil.

 

Drawing of the stamens and pistil
Drawing of the stamens and pistil

 

The ovary is cut open longitudinally to show the ovules inside.
The two unicarpellate ovaries are cut open longitudinally to show the ovules inside. The separation between the two ovaries is obvious.
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The unicarparate ovaries are cut open transversely to show the ovules inside. The separation between the two ovaries is prominent.

 

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The ovules have been dislodged to show the three dimensional view

Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers do not have nectar, however, and simply deceive their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar.

With its gnarled and knotty branches, long leaves and distinctive flowers, Plumeria is easy to identify.

An old Plumeria tree
The gnarled and knotty branches with long leaves are the characteristic features of the plant.

The bark is grey/green and scaly in appearance. The scaling is formed when leaves drop in winter leaving small semi-circular marks on the bark. The branches have a swollen appearance.

The plant has gnarled and knotty branches with long leaves
The branches show scaling and they have a swollen appearance.
The tree trunk of an old tree
The bark of an old stem

The leaves are dark green on the top and a lighter shade of green underneath, cluster at the tips of branches.

 

Plumeria are now commonly planted in southern and southeastern Asia. In local folk beliefs Plumeria provide shelter to ghosts and demons. They are often planted in cemeteries where the fresh flowers fall daily upon the tombs. Plumeria is also planted in temples in both Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

In several Pacific islands, such as Tahiti, Fiji and Tonga, Plumeria species are used for making leis (garland). The female figures that Paul Gauguin painted in Tahiti always wore white flowers. The white flowers may be Plumeria.

Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?), (1892), 105 x 77.5 cm) Rudlf Staaechelin Foundation, Basel
Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?), (1892), 105 x 77.5 cm) Rudlf Staaechelin Foundation, Basel

In modern Polynesian culture, the flower can be worn by women to indicate their relationship status – over the right ear if seeking a relationship, and over the left if taken.

Plumeria is the national flower of Nicaragua and it features on some of their bank notes.

NICARAGUA-25-CENTAVOS-1991-UNCIRCULATED-P170-BANKNOTE
$25 banknote of Nicaragua

Some species of Plumeria have been studied for their potential medicinal value. Some people believed that the bark, mashed in alcohol, prevents skin inflammation and is also used to treat indigestion and high blood pressure.  The roots have purgative effects on animals and the milk-like sap serves as a balm for skin diseases. The sap is actually an irritant to the eyes and skin.

 

Bibliography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumeria

http://www.allthingsfrangipani.com/frangipanis.html

Prather, Marla & Charles Stuckey (1987) Gauguin- A Retrospective, Bay Books, ISBN 1 86256 040 4

 

 

 

 

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