The frangipani tree goes by many common names across the world as do many plants, but the scientific name always stays the same: Plumeria sp. Here in the Cayman Islands, we have the privilege of seeing four of the main species of the frangipani: obtusa, rubra, alba and pudica.
Frangipani is a deciduous flowering tree native to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. This beautiful tree is most commonly used as an ornamental in the form of a large shrub, or small flowering tree. Here in Cayman however, it is not uncommon to see a large Plumeria growing in the old growth forest. These spring flowering beauties prefer full sun to part shade, well-drained soils, and are even heat/drought tolerant once established, making them a perfect candidate for the island.
Aside from its ability to tolerate Caribbean heat, the frangipani is very well known for its undeniable fragrance. The fragrance is most powerful at night to attract its pollinator, Pseudosphinx tetrio, or the sphinx moth. In addition to attracting the sphinx moth for pollination, the frangipani is also the host plant for the caterpillar of the moth. The caterpillars are hard to miss — they are roughly six inches long, very colourful and are usually found munching away on the leaves. Although these caterpillars can go through three entire leaves in a day, they generally do not harm the tree.
Frangipani’s fragrance is another reason why it is immensely popular as a cut flower, both for making leis in many Pacific islands, and in floral arrangements. Its fragrance can also be found in lotions, perfumes
In Mesoamerica, the tree was representative of life and fertility, which makes it a perfect Mother’s Day gift. Giving an arrangement of frangipani, or better yet a frangipani tree, is an excellent way to express love, adoration and appreciation on Mother’s Day. A gift that will last a few days, or many years will certainly be remembered and cherished, especially for its beautiful fragrance.