Like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a plain brown chrysalis, magnificent blossoms sprout from seemingly lifeless branches every spring. Plumeria, also known as Frangipani, are colorful tropical shrubs or small trees native to Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. They are readily available in pink, red, yellow, white and every combination in between.
Plumeria are extremely popular in Hawaii, where they grow in abundance. Leis, the famous flower necklaces given to tourists upon their arrival, are made from Plumeria blossoms. Fun fact: In many Polynesian countries, women wear a blossom behind their ear to signify their marital status. A flower behind a woman’s left ear means she is taken.
Many varieties of Plumeria have an intoxicating scent, especially at night. Drawn in by the enticing fragrance, Sphinx moths — the Plumeria’s natural pollinators — are frequent nighttime visitors. During theday, Plumeria attract butterflies, bees and a fast-growing fan base of enthusiasts.
Plumeria are deciduous plants, which explains their barren appearance during the winter months. Some find their bare branches unsightly; others, like myself, admire their unique gnarly branch structure forming garden art.
Evergreen with oak-shaped leaves, Plumeria pudica has become very popular in Naples in recent years. Unlike other Plumeria, this particular variety does not drop its leaves and will bloom beautifully for months. It’s currently only available in white, but it won’t be long before those tenacious hybridizing experts work their magic.
Plumeria grow very well in South Florida’s so-called soil. Requiring minimal care, they can grow to a height and width of 15 to 20 feet. Plumeria have a slow growth habit, and should be under-planted in well-draining soil. They love sunshine, requiring at least a half day’s worth to reach fullblooming capacity. Plumeria also do well in screened-in pool cages, provided they receive full sun. They make excellent container plants. Use a large, sturdy pot so the plant won’t topple over. When choosing a fertilizer for Plumeria, look for one that is high in phosphorus (the middle number).
One more thing: In the fall, rust fungus is extremely common in Plumeria. My advice is to relax and leave it alone. Your Plumeria will be going deciduous soon anyway. If you must treat the plant, use Neem oil and a little soap. Remember, never spray anything on your plants in the heat of the day, as it will burn the leaves.
The National Plumeria Collection is housed right here in Southwest Florida at the Naples Botanical Garden. Their expansive collection attracts Plumeria fans from around the country during the spring and summer. Take a strollthrough their magnificent collection of more than 300 different varieties, and remember to stop and smell the Plumeria.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com. He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF