We’ve all heard stories where someone reached stardom only after leaving their hometown, and Plumeria rubra (ploo-MEER-ee-uh ROO-bruh) has just such a tropical plant story to tell.
This perennial native of Central America down to Columbia and Venezuela is one of many plumeria species in the Apocynaceae family and is most commonly referred to as frangipani.
However, the plant rocketed to the status of an international icon when it was imported to Hawaii and became its official lei flower.
It is used in leis throughout the Pacific Isles and has become synonymous with temples and cemeteries.
This particular species is so popular that most plumeria cultivars can claim it as a parent plant.
It also has a small thesaurus worth of common names worldwide but is most commonly referred to in English as:
- Common Frangipani
- Jasmine Mango
- Pagoda Tree
- Red Frangipani
- Red Nosegay Tree
- Red Paucipan
- Temple Flower
- Temple Tree
- West Indian Jasmine
The nickname of frangipani is due to the similarity between the scent of a plumeria flower and one of 16th Century Italian Marquis Muzio Fragipani’s creations. However, the perfume was artificially created.
Red Frangipani Plumeria Tree Care
Size & Growth
Shaped almost like an umbrella, the red frangipani can reach a height and width of 25’ feet, although it tends to be smaller when planted in containers.
A relatively slow grower can take 10 to 20 years to reach its full size, and a healthy tree will generally live for 40 to 50 years.
It can have a somewhat unusual appearance, with brittle branches arching out from one or more grey trunks and leaves only appearing at the tips.
Fallen branches or leaves leave behind scale-like scars, and the tree is deciduous in some climates, resulting in a bare skeletal frame in winter, while in tropical regions, it tends to be evergreen.
New branches begin as green before fading to brown and eventually grey, and many growers train them vertically to extend the trunk height.
The leaves are coarse and range from 12 to 20” inches long and 8 to 12” inches wide.
Flowering and Fragrance
While the plant itself is unusual enough to appeal to some growers, the fragrant flowers are what truly steal the show.
Blooming from early summer until as late as mid-autumn, a single plumeria will stay in bloom for 3 to 5 months.
The highly fragrant pink, red, white, and yellow flowers have 5 petals and measure 2 to 3” inches across.
The flowers give way to oblong 6 to 12” inch brown seed pods containing numerous, tiny seeds.
Light & Temperature
You’ll want to keep your temple tree in a spot that gets plenty of bright, indirect light to full sun (6 hours of sunlight per day), although you may wish to shelter it a bit from winds.
Plumeria can be planted outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10-12, although it may be possible to maintain a healthy tree in some sheltered parts of zone 9b.
An average temperature of 65° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit is best for this plant, which can tolerate heat waves but is very cold intolerant.
If growing in a container, the plant should be brought inside if the temperature drops to 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
It becomes deciduous if the temperature drops below 50° degrees Fahrenheit, losing its leaves and going dormant.
Frost can kill the tree, although well-established specimens can survive short dips to 28° degrees Fahrenheit.
Watering and Fertilizing
Overwatering temple trees cause most of their health problems, but the plant is drought-tolerant, so never be afraid of underwatering.
Instead, wait until the soil is dry to the touch outdoors and a couple of inches down for containers, then give slow deep water.
Stop when you see water beginning to seep from a container’s drainage holes.
These plants have succulent-like trunks that store water during dry spells and provide all of their water needs throughout the winter. Plumerias do not like wet feet.
Stop watering for the year when the leaves begin to droop and resume only when you see new growth form or the trunk starts to look wrinkled from dehydration.
Aim for a liquid fertilizer with high phosphorus content, such as 10-30-10.
Apply monthly from the beginning of spring through August.
More on Plumeria Fertilizer
Soil & Transplanting
Red frangipanis can tolerate almost any kind of soil, ranging from sandy to clay.
A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7 is preferable, and you will need to ensure the soil you use is well-draining by adding perlite or a similar aggregate.
For container plants, aim for a moss-based potting mix for the best results.
As a potted plant plumerias will need an annual repotting in spring to replenish the soil and provide a larger container.
Details on Plumeria Soil Requirements
Grooming And Maintenance
As a general rule, these plants don’t need any pruning or maintenance.
That said, you can trim off damaged or diseased branches or prune back for shape/size at any point of the year.
Always make clean cuts and try to avoid damaging the bark.
Be warned that excessive pruning, especially in winter, can reduce the number of blooms the following year.
How To Propagate Plumerias
The most popular propagation method for this plant is through stem cuttings, although they can be grown from seed.
Plumeria Pests or Diseases
Once established, these plants are incredibly resistant to airborne and soil salt content, droughts, and high temperatures.
However, they are frost intolerant.
Aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, nematodes scale, spider mites, thrips, and whiteflies can all become problematic for this plant, although none of these will kill established frangipani.
Disease-wise, root rot is the biggest threat, but it can also suffer from plumeria rust.
The plant is generally listed as toxic due to the natural latex found in its sap.
This latex can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals and may result in diarrhea or vomiting if consumed.
Plumeria Rubra Uses
The flowers are used for leis, perfumes, and even in some dishes.
The plant has various uses in traditional medicine and has shown properties of interest in modern pharmaceutical medicine.
As an outdoor plant, it’s a common sight in rock gardens, temples, cemeteries, xeriscapes, and parks.
Its salt resistance makes it perfect for seaside planting, and it can make a wonderful statement when grown in containers.