GREEN MATTERS: There are about 9 species of plumerias and all of them originated from Mexico and other regions of Central America

Plumeria flowers with their beautiful colours and fragrance symbolise natural beauty!

Plumeria, which is otherwise known as Frangipani, Pagoda tree, Temple tree and West Indian Jasmine is the world’s most beloved garden plant. It is a large shrub or a tree that can be grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

There are about nine species of Plumerias and all of them originated from Mexico and other regions of Central America. The popular Plumeria species are Plumeria rubra, Plumeria obtusa, Plumeria pudica and Plumeria alba.

Many cultivated varieties have been developed in the horticulture trade and now more than 1,000 flower colours are available in the international market.

Plumerias come in all colours of the rainbow – from pure white to deep red, from pale pink to butter lemon to the vibrant shades of yellows, golds, oranges, peach, mango, lilac, blood red and so on.

They also come in bi-colours and tricolours with striped petals. And now there are many varieties developed with various shades of leaf variegations. Petal shapes also vary from thick, overlapping scalloped petals to thin, elongated ones.

The fragrances of Plumeria flowers are diverse - ranging from coconut to jasmine, including citrus, rose, honeysuckle, raspberry, spice, apricot, peach etc. Each and every Frangipani variety has unique fragrance!

The flowers are used for making scents and perfumes.

Fresh flowers of Plumerias are scattered in pools and bowls for decoration. Plumerias are slow growing with swollen, succulent limbs with milky latex (The latex is not deadly except when taken in large quantities). The large, thick leaves are whorled around the tips of woody branches.

Waxy petals

All the varieties are prolific bloomers and flowers bloom like bouquets at the tips of branches.

Each flower is made of five waxy petals. Flowers secrete no nectar but are pollinated by moths that are attracted by the fragrance.

Mature frangipanis can grow to around 10 metres high and 7 metres wide. There are both evergreen and deciduous varieties of Plumerias and the deciduous ones will shed their leaves during winter.

Plumerias thrive with a little maintenance, are easy to propagate and look magnificent with large clusters of sweet-scented flowers almost throughout the year and hence make excellent garden plants.

They are ideal for planting in home gardens, water gardens, patios, courtyards, planter boxes, roof-top gardens, balconies, as well as in groups, for privacy screen, for hedge, as specimen plants, beside a wall or in a bonsai form.

Maintenance

Plumerias prefer bright sunlight and moderate humidity for optimum growth and require at least 6 to 7 hours of direct sun every day. No special care is required in the peak summer also. They grow well in light soils having good drainage but struggle in clay soils, where it is hard for water to drain away.

For the old container plants, if their roots have filled the container, the plants to be repotted in spring to a slightly bigger pot.

Top-dressing is needed every year by removing the top 2 to 3 inches of soil in the pot and replacing it with fresh soil mixed with manure.

Watering

Plumerias require profuse watering but the top soil shall be dried out before the next watering. On the onset of winter the frequency of watering shall be reduced and totally stopped after all the leaves are shed in the deciduous varieties and resumed in the spring as new growth begins.

Feeding

Plumerias will flower bigger and better, with the application of fertilizers during spring and summer. They should be fed with a high nitrogen fertilizer during spring when growth begins. To encourage the blooms, switch to phosphorous fertilizer in 2 to 3 doses from April to September.

Pruning

The size of the plant can be controlled by pruning, and by doing so more branching out and thereby more blooming occurs. Pruning operation can be done in late winter or early spring. While pruning, make a sharp and slant cut just above node. Thinning out about 20 per cent of the canopy of the mature plant is good to do every few years; it opens up the branches, allows light in and reduces stem rot.

Pests and diseases

Plumerias are very hardy and have very few insect or disease problems. During wet, cool weather frangipanis can be at risk of root / stem rot, caused by fungus. To reduce the risk, remove the spongy branches, reduce watering and spray fungicide.

In cool and moist regions Plumerias are also susceptible to scale (insect) and rust (fungus) problems, which can be solved with minor doses of insecticide and fungicide sprays.

Propagation

Propagation of Plumerias is easier when compared to many garden plants. Take about one foot long stem tip cuttings in spring, allow them to dry for 4-5 days, and plant them in potting medium.

The cuttings will start rooting in 15-20 days. They can also be propagated through layering, grafting and from seeds.

(The author is a forest officer and can be contacted at ‘nchandramohanreddy@gmail.com’)