Plumeria Meanings and Symbolism

The Plumeria and Frangipani Flower: It’s Meanings & Symbolism

Few tropical flowers are as delicate and pure looking as the Plumeria. Also commonly known as frangipani, this flower is native to South America and the Caribbean Islands. Even if you do not live in a climate zone warm enough for growing your own Plumeria outside year around, you can grow them in pots and protect from frost and winter cold. Even if you don’t grow Plumeria you can appreciate the rich scent and inspiring meaning of this bloom. Explore the history and power of this flower to find out how to use it as a potent symbol for personal development or making meaningful arrangements.

What Does the Frangipani Flower Mean?

A few different cultures have assigned meanings to the Frangipani flower, including modern American culture. These meanings include:

  • The strength to withstand tough challenges
  • Connecting with spirits and ghosts
  • Welcoming guests and inviting them to stay, due to its use in Hawaiian leis
  • Intense love and a lasting bond between two people
  • Immortality and spiritual devotion spread over multiple lifetimes

The Mayans and other Mesoamericans held this flower in very high esteem, as evidenced by the extensive carvings and paintings found that feature the blooms. However, it’s not currently known what exactly the plumeria means to them. The flower is still used today in religious rituals from Hindu, Buddhist, Balinese, and Swahili cultures.

Etymology and Common Names of the Plumeria Flower

All Frangipani varieties fall under the scientific name of Plumeria. The Frangipani title was derived from a 16th century nobleman named Marquis Frangipani. He created an unique perfume that became very popular for scenting gloves, so when the flower arrived in Europe shortly afterwards and produced a scent very similar to his perfume, the name stuck.

The genus is named in honor of the seventeenth-century French botanist Charles Plumier, who traveled to the New World documenting many plant and animal species. The common name “frangipani” comes from a sixteenth-century marquis of the noble family in Italy who claimed to invent a plumeria-scented perfume, but in reality made a synthetic perfume that was said at the time to resemble the odor of the recently discovered flowers. Many English speakers also simply use the generic name “plumeria”.

In Persian, the name is yas or yasmin.In Bengali the name is “Kath Golap”, in Hindi, champa, in Gujarati language, “Champo”, in Marathi chafa, in Telugu deva ganneru (divine nerium), in Meitei khagi leihao. In Hawaii, the name is melia, although common usage is still ‘plumeria’. In Malayalam it is called pāla and chempakam. In Sri Lanka, it is referred to as araliya (අරලිය) and (in English) as the ‘Temple Tree’. In Cantonese, it is known as gaai daan fa or the ‘egg yolk flower’ tree. The name lilawadi (originating from Thai) is found occasionally. In Indonesia, where the flower has been commonly associated with Balinese culture, it is known as kamboja, in Bali especially it is known as jepun. In French Polynesia it is called tipanie or tipanier and tīpani in the Cook Islands. In the Philippines it is called kalachuchi.

Symbolism of the Plumeria Flower

Modern florists often recommend the Plumeria as a gift for someone who has endured many challenges because this plant must be heated over 500 degrees F to catch alight and start burning. Aside from a natural toughness, the delicate look of the flower makes it a symbol of grace, wealth, and perfection across Asia. However, many people in China and Vietnam consider it unlucky because of a folk belief that ghosts and other spirits live in the branches of the bush. As a wedding flower across southern India, it symbolizes the lasting bond between a married couple. Chinese people also use it to indicate affection and love when it’s inappropriate to speak about those feelings openly. Swahili poets also use it as a symbol of love, while Buddhist and Hindu followers consider it a sign of immortality and the continuation of the soul after death.

Plumeria Flower Color Meaning

This plant can produce flowers ranging from pure white to yellow, pink, red, orange, violet and multi-colors (no Blues). Most of them share the same meanings, with the notable exception of the white flower in Indian culture. Red flowers aren’t used for weddings, so only white and cream colored Plumeria are considered appropriate for declaring love between two people.

Meaningful Botanical Characteristics of the Plumeria Flower

The Plumeria is mainly used as a source of perfume oil and for decorating around houses and temples. However, some researchers are using plumeria as potential treatments for a variety of health problems, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Special Occasions for the Plumeria Flowers

Give the gift of a fragrant Plumeria for:

  • Weddings, especially between two very compatible people
  • Cheering up a friend after a difficult time
  • Honoring the spirits of loved ones
  • Reminding yourself of the immortality of the soul


The genus Plumeria includes more than a dozen accepted species, and one or two dozen open to review, with over a hundred regarded as synonyms.

Plumeria species have a milky latex that, like many other Apocynaceae contains poisonous compounds that irritate the eyes and skin. The various species differently in their leaf shapeand arrangement. The leaves of Plumeria alba are narrow and corrugated, whereas leaves of Plumeria pudica have an elongated shape and glossy, dark-green color. Plumeria pudica is one of the everblooming types with non-deciduous, evergreen leaves. Another species that retains leaves and flowers in winter is Plumeria obtusa; though its common name is “Singapore,” it is originally from Colombia. 

Accepted species:

  1. Plumeria alba – Puerto Rico, Lesser Antilles
  2. Plumeria clusioides (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L. – Cuba
  3. Plumeria cubensis (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Cuba
  4. Plumeria ekmanii (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Cuba
  5. Plumeria emarginata (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Cuba
  6. Plumeria filifolia – Cuba
  7. Plumeria inodora – Guyana, Colombia, Venezuela (incl Venezuelan islands in Caribbean)
  8. Plumeria krugii (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Puerto Rico
  9. Plumeria lanataBritton (Synonym of Plumeria obtusa var. sericifolia (C.Wright ex Griseb.) Woodson) – Cuba
  10. Plumeria magnaZanoni & M.M.Mejía- Dominican Republic
  11. Plumeria montanaBritton & P.Wilson(now a synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Cuba
  12. Plumeria obtusa– West Indies including Bahamas; southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Florida; naturalized in China
  13. Plumeria pudica– Panama, Colombia, Venezuela (incl Venezuelan islands in Caribbean)
  14. Plumeria rubra– Mexico, Central America, Venezuela; naturalized in China, the Himalayas, West Indies, South America, and numerous oceanic islands
  15. Plumeria sericifoliaWright ex Griseb.(Demoted to Plumeria obtusa var. sericifolia (C.Wright ex Griseb.) Woodson) – Cuba
  16. Plumeria × stenopetala
  17. Plumeria × stenophylla– Mexico and Central America
  18. Plumeria subsessilisDC.- Hispaniola
  19. Plumeria trinitensisBritton(Synonym of Plumeria obtusa var. sericifolia (C.Wright ex Griseb.) Woodson) – Cuba
  20. Plumeria tuberculataLodd.(Synonym of Plumeria obtusa var. sericifolia (C.Wright ex Griseb.) Woodson) – Hispaniola, Bahamas
  21. Plumeria venosaBritton(Synonym of Plumeria obtusa L.) – Cuba

Formerly included in genus:

  1. Plumeria ambiguaMüll.Arg. = Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  2. Plumeria angustifloraSpruce ex Müll.Arg. = Himatanthus attenuatus (Benth.) Woodson
  3. Plumeria articulataVahl = Himatanthus articulatus (Vahl) Woodson
  4. Plumeria attenuataBenth = Himatanthus attenuatus (Benth.) Woodson
  5. Plumeria bracteataDC. = Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  6. Plumeria drastica = Himatanthus drasticus (Mart.) Plumel
  7. Plumeria fallaxMüll.Arg. = Himatanthus drasticus (Mart.) Plumel
  8. Plumeria floribundavar floribunda = Himatanthus articulatus (Vahl) Woodson
  9. Plumeria floribundaacutifolia Müll.Arg. = Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  10. Plumeria floribundacalycina Müll.Arg. = Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  11. Plumeria floribundacrassipes Müll.Arg. = Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  12. Plumeria hilarianaMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  13. Plumeria lancifoliaMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  14. Plumeria latifoliaHimatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  15. Plumeria martiiMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  16. Plumeria microcalyxHimatanthus articulatus (Vahl) Woodson
  17. Plumeria mulongoHimatanthus attenuatus (Benth.) Woodson
  18. Plumeria obovataMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  19. Plumeria oligoneuraMalme= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  20. Plumeria phagedaenica ex Müll.Arg. 1860 not Mart. 1831= Himatanthus drasticus (Mart.) Plumel
  21. Plumeria phagedaenica 1831 not Benth. ex Müll.Arg. 1860= Himatanthus phagedaenicus(Mart.) Woodson
  22. Plumeria puberulaMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  23. Plumeria retusaTabernaemontana retusa (Lam.) Pichon
  24. Plumeria revolutaHuber= Himatanthus stenophyllus Plumel
  25. Plumeria speciosaMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus bracteatus (A.DC.) Woodson
  26. Plumeria sucuubaSpruce ex Müll.Arg.= Himatanthus articulatus (Vahl) Woodson
  27. Plumeria tarapotensisSchum. ex Markgr.= Himatanthus tarapotensis (K.Schum. ex Markgr.) Plumel
  28. Plumeria velutinaMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson
  29. Plumeria warmingiiMüll.Arg.= Himatanthus obovatus (Müll.Arg.) Woodson

Additional information is available and references are Wikipedia.

Related Images:

Dean Conklin Plumeria Grove

The Dean Conklin Plumeria Grove is named in honor of the late Mr. Dean Conklin, an employee of the City and County of Honolulu, Parks and Recreation Department. The collection is located in Koko Crater on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. It is owned and managed by the City and County of Honolulu, Parks and Recreation Department.

By plumeria enthusiasts, known simply as Koko Crater, it is somewhat difficult to locate. Though once you’ve been there, you’ll never forget the path or the collection.

Follow these simple steps:

  • Drive past Diamond Head on Kalaniana’ole Highway
  • Continue past Hawaii Kai and Hanauma Bay
  • Slow down as you pass the surfer area called Sandy Beach
  • Take the first major left turn after Sandy Beach, Kealahou Street
  • Drive through a part of the Hawaii Kai residential area and Golf Course
  • Watch for an obscure left turn, to Koko Crater Stables and Botanic Gardens (the road and surroundings look aweful)
  • Follow the narrow road till it ends at the Plumeria Grove and stables.

There are hunderds of plumeria trees in the grove. They begin with the whites and miscelaneous, then the pinks, rainbows, yellows, and finally the reds. Many of these trees are large enough to climb, though we DO NOT recommend that you do, since you can get hurt or even worse damage a world class specimen plant. Many of the plumeria in this grove are rare if not unknown elsewhere.

Most of the trees are only taged with an acquisition number, with no indication of a cultivar or variety name to be found. The following list relates acquisition number to cultivar name as well as we can determine. Unnamed varieties are simply noted as to color. We make no guarantees. Many plants have the same number, we list only those with duplicate numbers and different flowers. Many plants are untaged, we don’t list these at all. When we list ‘cultivar’ type, it means, in our opinion, it may or may not be the named cultivar, but bears striking similarity. Documented by John Murry in 1996.

  • 870994 ‘Cyndi Moragne’ (one is ‘Cyndi’ another is ‘Jeannie’ Moragne)
  • 870994 ‘Jeannie Moragne’ (one is ‘Jeannie’ another is ‘Cyndi’ Moragne)
  • 930008 ‘Singapore’
  • 930180 ‘Irma Bryan’
  • 930181 ‘Hilo Beauty’
  • 930182 ‘Dean Conklin’
  • 930183 ‘Kaneohe Sunburst’
  • 930184 ‘Madame Poni’
  • 930185 ‘Cerise’ type
  • 930186 ‘Cerise’ type
  • 930187 ‘Cerise’ type
  • 930188 ‘Cerise’ type
  • 930189 Moragne rainbow (not ‘Katie Moragne’)
  • 930190 ‘J.L. Trumpet’
  • 930191 ‘Kauka Wilder’
  • 930192 ‘Lei Rainbow’
  • 930193 ‘Julie Moragne’ (incorrect label says ‘Puu Kahea’)
  • 930193 ‘Puu Kahea’ (look for ‘Julie Moragne’ white w/red stripe on back)
  • 930194 yellow
  • 930195 reflexed pink and white (Moragne?)
  • 930196 yellow
  • 930197 ‘Sally Moragne’
  • 930198 Moragne rainbow (not ‘Sally Moragne’)
  • 930199 rainbow
  • 930200 ‘Bill Moragne, Sr.’
  • 930201 Moragne rainbow
  • 930203 ‘Jean Moragne’
  • 930204 ‘Edi Moragne’? (four distinctly different plants have this same number)
  • 930205 ‘Intense Rainbow’
  • 930206 pink
  • 930207 ‘Katie Moragne’
  • 930208 ‘Cyndi Moragne’
  • 930209 indeterminate
  • 930211 ‘Tomlinson’
  • 930211 duplicate (not ‘Tomlinson’, possible ‘Mela Matson’)
  • 930212 ‘Plastic Pink’
  • 930213 pink
  • 930214 yellow
  • 930215 indeterminate
  • 930216 reflexed white
  • 930217 pink and white
  • 930218 white, pink bottom stripe
  • 930219 indeterminate
  • 930219 white and pink
  • 930220 pink Moragne
  • 930221 ‘Grove Farm’
  • 930223 ‘Ruffels’
  • 930224 yellow
  • 930225 yellow Moragne
  • 930226 ‘Scott Pratt’
  • 930227 ‘Cerise’ type
  • 930228 pink and white
  • 930229 ‘Gold’ (one is ‘Gold’ the other is ‘Hiedi’)
  • 930229 ‘Hiedi’ (one is ‘Hiedi’ the other is ‘Gold’)
  • 930230 ‘Paul Weissich’
  • 930230 yellow (‘Paul Weissich’?)
  • 930231 pink
  • 930232 ‘White Shell’
  • 930233 yellow
  • 930234 pink
  • 930236 ‘Celadine’ type
  • 930237 rainbow
  • 930240 pale yellow same as 940035?
  • 930241 white Moragne
  • 930242 white and yellow Moragne
  • 930243 pale pink
  • 930245 ‘Celadine’ type (another is pink and white)
  • 930245 pink and white (another is ‘Celadine’ type)
  • 930246 ‘Maui Beauty’
  • 930246 pink
  • 930247 ‘Celadine’ type (two different with same number)
  • 930247 large cream (two different with same number)
  • 930248 pink
  • 930249 ‘Daisy Wilcox’
  • 930250 giant pink
  • 940023 pink
  • 940027 indeterminate
  • 940028 indeterminate possible ‘Sally Moragne’
  • 940029 pinkish Moragne
  • 940030 giant white
  • 940030 rainbow
  • 940031 pink and white
  • 940032 Moragne rainbow (same as 940039)
  • 940034 pink and white
  • 940035 pale yellow same as 930240?
  • 940037 pink and white
  • 940039 Moragne rainbow (same as 940032)
  • 940200 white
  • 940238 ‘Jeannie Moragne’
  • 940240 pink and white

Related Images:

About Plumeria

Plumeria / Frangipani

Nothing evokes that tropical feeling quite like the Plumeria. Their sweet scent and sheer beauty make them universally loved and the blooms look sensational on the tree and as a cut flower. Pick up some freshly fallen blooms and float them in a bath or bowl of water and it’s easy to feel you’re relaxing in a fabulous tropical day spa!

Most familiar in their white and yellow form, they also come in loads of tropical and sunset colors, becoming more colorful the closer to the equator you go. Plumeria are also tough plants that can survive neglect, heat and drought and still fill the garden with a wonderful perfume. What more could you ask for in a tree?

Description & Varieties

This section provides a description of the plants available, and details the varieties most commonly kept in the home garden.

  • Plumeria (/plˈmɛriə/; common name plumeria or frangipani) is a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. It contains primarily deciduous shrubs and small trees. The flowers are native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America as far south as Brazil but can be grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
    (An extensive list of known plumeria names and descriptions)
  • Plumeria alba is a species of the genus Plumeria (Apocynaceae). This 2-8 m evergreen shrub has narrow elongated leaves, large and strongly perfumed white flowers with a yellow center. Native to Central America and the Caribbean, it is now common and naturalized in southern and southeastern Asia.
  • Plumeria clusioides is a species of the genus Plumeria in the family Apocynaceae. It is endemic to the Island of Cuba. Some authors consider P. clusioides to be the same species as P. obtusa, but we follow the lead of the World Checklist produced by Kew Royal Gardens in London in accepting it as a distinct species.
  • Plumeria obtusa, the Singapore graveyard flower, is a species of the genus Plumeria (Apocynaceae). It is native to the West Indies including Bahamas; southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Florida. but widely cultivated for its ornamental and fragrant flowers around the world, where suitably warm climate exists. It is reportedly naturalized in China.
  • Plumeria pudica is a species of the genus Plumeria (Apocynaceae), native to Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. This profuse bloomer has unusual spoon-shaped leaves, and its flowers are white with a yellow center.

    There is a variegated leaved Plumeria pudica commonly called Golden Arrow or Gilded Spoon, also a pink flowering hybrid produced in Thailand called Sri Supakorn or Pink pudica.

  • Plumeria rubra is a deciduous plant species belonging to the genus Plumeria. Originally native to Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela, it has been widely cultivated in subtropical and tropical climates worldwide and is a popular garden and park plant, as well as being used in temples and cemeteries. It grows as a spreading tree to 7–8 m (23–26 ft) high and wide, and is flushed with fragrant flowers of shades of pink, white and yellow over the summer and autumn. Its common names include frangipani, red paucipanred-jasminered frangipani, common frangipani, temple tree, or simply plumeria.


History, Facts & Legends

Did you know that plumeria will only burn in extreme heat (over 500 degrees)? In this section, learn a little about the history of plumeria and some little known facts. We also share some myths and legends about plumeria from around the world.

Plumeria / Frangipani Names

How did the plumeria get it’s name? And the frangipani? In this section, we give you the lowdown, not just on how they got their original names, but also what plumeria are called around the world.


Plumeria are relatively small trees typically growing only to about 12-15 feet in height, but what they lack in height they make up in width often becoming as wide as they are tall. They have a well-behaved root system which makes them great for the home garden and for growing in pots. Plumeria are also great survivors coping with drought, heat, neglect and insect and pest attack. They are also deciduous allowing maximum winter sun while providing shade in summer.

With its gnarled branches, long leaves and distinctive flowers, the plumeria is easily one of the most common and identifiable trees. 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 and the leaves, dark green on the top and a lighter shade of green underneath, cluster at the tips of branches.  A cut made on any part of the tree will exude a milky, sticky sap that is poisonous to both humans and animals.

Plumeria flowers appear in clusters, also at the end of the branches, and are distinctively scented. The petals are waxy with the center of the flower a different color to the rest. For example the most common plumeria has white flowers with a yellow center. There are many varieties ranging from deep crimson to orange , yellow and white (and every shade in between). Unlike some flowering trees which bloom for a few days or weeks, plumeria go on flowering. Flowers appear from May to October in the US and December to April in Australia, and even longer in warmer climates.


Plumeria (common name Frangipani) is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical Americas. The genus consists of mainly deciduous shrubs and trees. From Mexico and Central America, Plumeria has spread to all tropical areas of the world, especially Hawaii, where it grows so abundantly that many people think that it is indigenous there.

Plumeria is related to the Oleander (Nerium oleander) and both possess poisonous, milky sap, rather similar to that of Euphorbia. Each of the separate species of Plumeria bears differently shaped leaves and their form and growth habits are also distinct.

Plumeria Obtusa is a mainly evergreen tree (deciduous in dry seasons) with spreading branches and a rounded dome. Although its common name is “Singapore”, it is originally from Colombia. Height to 24′ and spread to 12′. Leaves are pointed and oval up to 18″ long. Tubular fragrant flowers occur in summer – autumn.

Plumeria Rubra (and variation Plumeria Acutifolia) also known as the Common Frangipani or Red Frangipani, is native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela. It is a deciduous, spreading, sparsely branched tree or shrub with a height to 15′ and spread to 12′ and more. Produces fragrant flowers with 5 spreading petals, ranging from yellow to pink depending on form or cultivar, in summer to autumn. Leaves are lance shaped to oval, and 9″ to 18″ long.


It is generally thought that plumeria are native to South & Central America although some reports claim they are native to the Caribbean and were taken to the Americas by Spanish priests.

According to Steven Prowse, of Sacred Garden Plumeria’s, frangipani arrived in Australia from South America via the Polynesian peoples who inter bred with the Melanesian peoples & established villages in the Melanesian region in what is now New Guinea. From there, frangipani came to Australia via 2 routes.

The first was via the Torres Strait Islands which are between Australia and New Guinea and are less than a day’s paddle in a dugout canoe from either. The Torres Strait Islanders traded & interbred with both the New Guinea & Australian aboriginal peoples and brought the frangipani to both the Torres Straits and Australia. The islanders consider the frangipani a sacred plant.

The second & most important wave of frangipani introduction into Australia happened in the late 1800’s through to the 1920’s through Polynesian missionaries and, later, slaves. The missions were established in remote northern tropical regions of Australia by the Polynesian-based church missions who brought with them Polynesian & Melanesian Christians, coconuts & frangipani. Most missions failed to survive long term in these disease, snake and crocodile-infested and cyclone-prone areas, and were abandoned. They eventually vanished into the tropical jungle with only the drought-hardy frangipani surviving. Most of the more beautiful varieties of frangipani found in Australia were brought directly from Polynesia & Melanesia by these missionaries.

Later, gold mining and a pioneering sugar cane industry was established in parts of the region and the land had to be cleared by hand. The work was too dangerous, hot & difficult for the European settlers, who turned to the enslavement of captured Polynesians as forced laborers to establish their sugar cane plantations.  In time laws were changed and the Polynesian slaves were set free.

Many stayed and others returned to their Polynesian homelands bringing back family members and many varieties of their sacred frangipani.

Today, frangipani are found in most parts of Australia as they will tolerate a wide range of conditions and are probably one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting.

Little-Known Facts about the Plumeria

  • Many Hawaiian leis are made from Plumeria flowers.
  • The colorful caterpillar of Pseudosphinx tetrio feeds only on Plumeria rubra.
  • Cole Porter’s song “A Stroll on the Plaza Sant’ Ana” (from the musical Panama Hattie, 1940) mentions Plumeria.
  • Plumeria are good hosts for dendrobium orchids.
  • The plumeria is the national tree of Laos, where it is called dok jampa. It is regarded as a sacred tree in Laos and every Buddhist temple in that country has them planted in their courtyards. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old and are spectacular, huge, gnarled giants.
  • The plumeria is the flower of the city of Palermo in Sicily, Italy.
  • The plumeria is the national flower of Nicaragua and it features on some of their bank notes.
  • Plumeria won’t burn except in extreme (over 500 degrees) temperatures.
  • In Caribbean cultures the leaves are used as poultices (a healing wrap) for bruises and ulcers and the latex is used as a liniment for rheumatism.
  • According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (by Scott Cunningham; Llewellyn Publications, 1984) the plumeria (frangipani) is associated with the feminine, ruled by Venus, its element is water, its deity is Buddha, its power is love and its magical uses are in love spells.
  • The plumeria is also associated with love in feng shui.
  • In modern Polynesian culture, the plumeria can be worn by women to indicate their relationship status – over the right ear if seeking a relationship, and over the left if taken.
  • In India the plumeria is a symbol of immortality because of its ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of the soil. It is often planted near temples and graveyards, where the fresh flowers fall daily upon the tombs.
  • In Vietnam the plumeria is used for its healing qualities: the bark, mashed in alcohol, prevents skin inflammation, it is also used to treat indigestion and high blood pressure, while the roots have purgative effects on animals and the milk-like sap serves as a balm for skin diseases. The white flowers are used in traditional medicine to cure high blood pressure, haemophilia, cough, dysentery and fever.

Plumeria Myths and Legends

  • There is a theory that Catholic missionary priests spread plumeria around the world as they traveled. This may explain why the plumeria is so popular and common in the Philippines and Thailand but very rare in China and Vietnam. Thailand and the Philippines welcomed the Christian missionaries while, in China and Vietnam, they were persecuted until around the 1850s.
  • Plumeria trees were once considered taboo in Thai homes because of superstitious associations with the plant’s Thai name, lantom, which is similar toratom, the Thai word for sorrow. As a result, plumeria were thought to bring unhappiness. Today, however, the blossoms are presented as fragrant offerings to Buddha and Thai people wear them on special festival days like Songkran (Thai New Year).
  • According to Vietnamese myth, ghosts live in trees with white and fragrant flowers including the plumeria. In Vietnam and China the color white is associated with death and funerals.
  • In Hindu culture, the flower means loyalty. Hindu women put a flower in their hair on their wedding days to show their loyalty to their husbands.
  • It’s believed the Aztecs used a decoration of plumeria flowers and other plant materials mixed with certain internal organs of predatory animals (with a reputation for cunning, strength and bravery) as a powerful potion against fear, lethargy and fainthearted.
  • “Warming” oils — such as those from Plumeria, sandalwood, lotus flower, frankincense, cinnamon and basil — are said to have a calming influence on those suffering from fear, anxiety, insomnia or tremors, according to the principles of Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old Indian holistic science that seeks to balance mind, body and spirit.
  • A popular legend among sailors shipping overseas from Hawaii during WWII was to toss a lei into the waters as the ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, the sailor would return. If it floated toward the ship, he wouldn’t be coming back.
  • In the language of flowers, Plumeria are said to stand for love long in absence, as for a sailor long at sea.
  • Plumeria are very rare in China, and even more precious than orchids. So, when a person gives plumeria flowers to a sweetheart, it is the closest thing to saying you’re special, I love you in a culture where expression of personal feelings is frowned upon.
  • According to Mexican (Lakandon) myth the gods were born from Plumeria flowers.
  • In Malay folklore the scent of the plumeria is associated with a vampire, the pontianak.

How the Plumeria and Frangipani Got Their Names

The name “Plumeria” is attributed to Charles Plumier, a 17th Century French botanist who described several tropical species, although according to author Peter Loewer, Plumier was not the first to describe Plumeria. That honor goes to Francisco de Mendoza, a Spanish priest who did so in 1522.

The name, frangipani, comes from the Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century. When the frangipani flower was discovered its natural perfume reminded people of the scented gloves, and so the flower was called frangipani. Another version has it that the name, frangipani, is from the French frangipanier which is a type of coagulated milk that Plumeria milk resembles.

Other Plants Which Go Under the Name Plumeria

The Climbing Frangipani or Frangipani Vine is not a Plumeria, but Chonemorpha Fragans (although it belongs to the same family, Apocynaceae).

The Australian Native Frangipani is not a Plumeria either. Hymenosporum Flavum belongs to the family Pittosporaceae.

Plumeria Names Around the World

The botanic name is Plumeria. Around the world the plumeria (frangipani) is called:

  • The Aztec word is Cocaloxochite.
  • Tipanier in Tahiti.
  • Dok jampa  or Dok champa in Laos
  • Pomelia and Frangipane in Italy
  • Couleuvre, or Snake Tree in St.Barths Bois
  • Kemboja kuning in Malaysia
  • Pansal Mal in Sri Lanka
  • Jepun in Bali, Indonesia
  • Flor de Mayo in Yucatan, Puebla, El Salvador
  • Flor de la Cruz in Guatemala
  • Pumeli or Melia in Hawaii
  • Amapola in Venezuela
  • Kang Nai Xin in China
  • Phool in India
  • Hoa Su (Southern ), Hoa Dai (Northern) and Hoa Su Ma (ghost Plumeria) in Vietnam
  • Kalachuchi in the Philippines
  • Flor de Cebo in the Canary Islands
  • Sacuanjoche in Nicaragua (the name is derived from the word “xacuan” from a native language called náhuatl and means “precious yellow feather or flower”.
  • Common names are Temple Tree or Pagoda Tree in India and the Far East, Graveyard Tree in the Caribbean Islands, Temple Flower in Sri Lanka, and May flower (for the time of flowering) in Nicaragua.

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The Moragne Plumerias

 Fifty years ago, a dedicated amateur made the first controlled crosses of these fragrant tropicals.

Richard A. Criley & Jim Little
Published April 01, 1991

Plumerias, which are native to the semideciduous forests of southern Mexico and south into Panama, were described as early as 1522 in the Badianus Manuscripts by Francisco de Mendoza, a Spanish priest who was one of the first explorers of the region. According to this collection of Aztec lore, the Indians used the plants for medicinal purposes that ranged from poultices to emetics. Soon the hardy shrub with beautiful fragrant flowers was a favorite of the Spanish, who planted it around their churches, monasteries, and cemeteries, and took it with them as they explored the world.

The plumeria has also acquired religious significance in India, where it is known as the temple tree or pagoda tree. There, Buddhists and Moslems regard the tree as a symbol of immortality because of its capacity to produces flowers from stems severed from the parent tree. Hindus use the flower as a votive offering to the gods.

The flower’s botanical name honors the seventeenth-century French botanist, Charles Plumier. Some horticultural historians say that the common name, frangipani, was derived from the French word, frangipanier, meaning coagulated milk, which its sticky white latex resembles. Others believe it honors a twelfth-century Italian who compounded a perfume similar to that of these tropical flowers that were discovered some four centuries later.

Because Plumeria flowers and leaves come in so many forms, taxonomists once held that there could be forty-five or more species. Of course, these variations are not enough to justify naming a separate species. The “lumpers” of the taxonomic trade-as well as Hortus Third-now say there are perhaps only seven or eight species, and that most of those in the popular books on tropical flowers are really only variations of Plumeria rubra. “Splitters” among taxonomists still dissect out some other species, as do floras of Mexico and other Central American countries.

The first plumeria was introduced into Hawaii in 1860. It was a yellow brought in by Wilhelm Hillebrand, a German physician and botanist who lived in Hawaii from 1851 to 1871. The first red is thought to have arrived from Mexico around the turn of the century, either via a Mrs. Paul Neumann, wife of a consul stationed in Honolulu, or a Mr. Gifford, landscaper for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The white ‘Singapore’ plumeria was brought to Hawaii in 1931 by Harold Lyon, director of a sugar cane research station, from a large collection established in 1913 at the Singapore Botanical Gardens.

Since then, natural hybridization has given rise to many variations in form and scent, making them popular among collectors, who in 1979 established their own admiration society for this plant, the Plumeria Society of America.

But as late as between plumerias. In that year, William M. Moragne Sr. became manager of Grove Farm Plantation on Kauai, which specialized in sugar cane, pineapple, and cattle. Moragne (pronounced “Mor-AY-nee”), who was born in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1905 and graduated from the University of Hawaii with a major in civil engineering and sugar technology, was an avid lover of plants and had always wanted to experiment with cross-pollinating plumerias. But because there were no books to tell him how to proceed, he had to learn on his own.

The plumeria’s pistil-the stigma, style, and ovary that are the female reproductive parts-is located at the bottom of a very deep trumpet, and efforts to tear away the petals to reach the pistil produced a torrent of sticky white latex. So Moragne snipped off the petals at the tube and allowed them to “bleed” to get rid of the latex. The pollen of the mother flower was carefully scraped away before introducing the pollen of the male parent. But after three years of effort, he failed to produce a single seed pod.

Then in 1953, reflecting on the fact that the flowers were deep throated, Moragne realized that they would have to be pollinated naturally by little bugs crawling down into the throat and climbing around the pistil. In doing so, they would leave some pollen grains under the pistil, as well as on top. Perhaps, he reasoned, he should also place pollen under the pistil. He carefully transferred pollen to the sides and base of the pistils of four blossoms through an incision cut into the side of the flower tubes. His pollinations were carried out in the morning on newly opened flowers. After the pollen was transferred, he covered the pollinated area with plastic tape to prevent uncontrolled pollen from being carried in by insects.

Several weeks later, he realized that seed pods were beginning to swell the base of the flowers he had cross-pollinated. From those seeds he obtained 283 seedlings. The thirty-five he kept produced small trees with large, brilliant, fragrant blossoms, some of which bloom for six to eight months. Moragne at first numbered the seedlings as they came into bloom-some took five years to bloom, others as long as eighteen-but then began to select the largest flowers among the more brightly colored ones to name for the women of his family.

Only three of his eleven named hybrids- ‘Jean Moragne Jr.’, named for a daughter-in-law, and ‘Edi Cooke’ and ‘Julie Cooke’, named for two of his granddaughters-have been registered with the Plumeria Society of America, which came into existence just four years before his death in 1983*. In the late 1980’s a renewed interest in plumeria led to great demand for cuttings of his hybrids at botanical garden plant sales. But as with many vegetatively propagated plants, cuttings had found there way into many gardens in Hawaii and abroad, sometimes with a name change along the way.

Now, more than forty years after he developed his series of hybrids, there is confusion about the parentage of these historic crosses. According to the Register of Plumeria Culture, the male parent is ‘Scott Pratt’ and the female parent is called ‘Daisy Wilcox’. But in a 1974 newspaper article, Moragne was quoted as saying his hybrids were a cross between ‘Grove Farm’ and an otherwise unknown ‘Koloa Red’. In trying to update the Register for the society in 1988, John P. Oliver asked for help in finding out which was right.

Although Moragne reportedly kept records relating to his breeding breakthrough, none can be located today. The answers had to be found by talking to his daughters, Mary Moragne Cooke, Sally Moragne Mist, and Katie Moragne Bartness, and a long-time plantsman on Kauai, Howard Yamamoto.

Among the plumerias in Moragne’s garden near Lihue, Kauai, was the cutting of a chance seedling originally collected from Lawaii Kai on the southern side of Kauai by plumeria enthusiast Alexander McBryde. The cutting was planted there when the plantation was still being managed by a couple named Ralph and Daisy Wilcox. Daisy Wilcox demurred at the suggestion that the flower be named for her, and Moragne-whether bowing to her wishes or simply because he preferred place names, called it ‘Grove Farm’. Nevertheless, the name ‘Daisy Wilcox’ stuck among plumeria growers on the island, and ‘Daisy Wilcox’ it became officially when plumerias began to be registered many years later. ‘Daisy Wilcox’, a large, white-flowered plumeria with a pink stripe on the underside of the petals, bears little resemblance to a plumeria now registered as ‘Grove Farm’, a grainy pink one also found on Kauai. The large flower and tree size of most of the named selections, coupled with a letter written by Moragne in 1973, leave no doubt that the ‘Grove Farm’ plant he used was the large-flowered one.

Records relating to the male parent are even more conflicting. The only place the name ‘Koloa Red’ appears is in a 1974 newspaper interview. It may have been a reporting or typographical error; no one knows. In a 1975 account, Mary Moragne Cooke related that ‘Grove Farm’ was crossed with ‘Kohala Red’; more recently, she discovered a slide dated 1955 that identifies the hybrid here father named after here as a cross of ‘Kohala’ on ‘Grove Farm’.  

There is little question that ‘Kohala Red’ is a synonym for a dark red plumeria eventually registered as ‘Scott Pratt”. Pratt was the farm manager of the Kohala Sugar Plantations on the island of Hawaii. Once again, Moragne preferred the place name.

Cuttings from the series provided by Moragne to University of Hawaii plumeria breeder Ted Chinn in 1967 carried the notation in the accession book: ‘Kohala’ on ‘Grove Farm’ or ‘Scott Pratt’ on ‘Daisy Wilcox’. Both are right, given the synonymous names for the red and the confusion over the large white. But due to the registration of plumeria names and descriptions with the Plumeria Society of America, ‘Scott Pratt’ must be listed as the male parent and ‘Daisy Wilcox’ as the female parent for the Moragne series. (This is an unrecorded marriage in the history of Hawaii’s long-time or kama’aina families, which may well support Moragne’s preference for place names.)

None of the surviving selections have the small flowers or dark red color of ‘Scott Pratt’. The strong yellows in some of them are not seen in either of the parents, but this isn’t surprising given that Moragne selected for large size and colorful petals.

More than twenty years after the crosses were made, recollections are also vague about how many flowers Moragne actually attempted to pollinate. It is well documented that he harvested seed from the pods of four flowers and from them produced 283 seedlings, naming his favorites for his wife, “Jean Sr.”; daughters Mary, Sally and Katie; daughter-in-law “Jean Jr.”; and granddaughters Cindy, Kimi, Julie, Edi, Cathy, and Kelly.

He planted fifteen around his home, and set out nine other hybrids and the rest of his breeding collection along the Nawiliwili highway that once led into Grove Farm, near the present-day Ulu Ko subdivision. The plants are not identified-Moragne removed the tags before planting them-but are still much admired, so much that many cuttings have been poached over the years.

When asked why he had not continued his pollination work, Moragne responded that with 400 potted orchids and a garden of heliconias and gingers, he didn’t have time or space for another 283 plumerias. He had selected the best and that was enough.

Today, a few of the best of the Moragne hybrids are used for leis or worn pinned in the hair or wired as nosegays. From their ‘Daisy Wilcox’ parentage, some-primarily the numbered ones-inherited a rangy growth habit, but others are more compact and suited to landscape use.

Moragne gave cuttings to Foster Garden, the University of Hawaii, And the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden. Shortly before his death, he gave cuttings to Jim Little, a photographer and university instructor and amateur botanist whom he also taught how to hand-pollinate plumerias. Little and a few others plumeria hobbyists have kept Moragne’s legacy alive.

His hybrids represent a rare ability to choose only the best from a seedling population. It has been a long time since those initial plants were chosen, and their distribution has been limited by the isolation of the source and the lack of awareness among individual nurserymen of the uniqueness of these plants. It is time that these brilliantly colored, fragrant trees receive the recognition they deserve through more widespread propagation and use in tropical and protected subtropical landscapes.


Jim Little Nursery & Farms, Hawaii
Richard A. Criley, University of Hawaii at Manoa
The Plumeria People, Houston, Texas
The Exotic Plumeria (Frangipani), by E. H. Thornton and S. H. Thornton, 1985
The Handbook on Plumeria Culture, by R. Eggenberger and M. H. Eggenberger, 1988

Dr. Richard A. Criley is professor of horticulture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Jim Little is a retired assistant professor since 2000.  He runs one of the largest plumeria nurseries, located in Hawaii .

*The Plumeria Society of America was formed in 1979.

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