There is probably no flower that symbolises the tropics better than the plumeria, commonly known as the frangipani.
There is probably no flower that symbolises the tropics better than the plumeria, commonly known as the frangipani. iStock

Frangipani's beauty draws in many fans

There is probably no flower that symbolises the tropics better than the plumeria, commonly known as the frangipani.

The species we are most familiar with is plumeria rubra. They are usually seen in white, yellow and pink, with multicoloured forms also very common. Deep red ones are becoming easier to get, as is the lovely white semi-double form Bali Whirl.

Frangipanis are a really useful small tree. They are terrific in pots as they grow quite slowly. They are tolerant of drought and salt winds and fill the evening air with their heady fragrance throughout summer. They are deciduous, dropping all their leaves in winter to re-grow in spring. Some people don't like the bare branches, but I think a well-shaped specimen is lovely even during winter when they look quite sculptural.

Some other, less common forms are now becoming more widely available. Plumeria obtusa, also called Singapore White, has glossy, deep green leaves with a more rounded tip, and large, intensely fragrant white flowers. In our climate, it will retain most of the leaves throughout the year if planted in a really warm position.

All frangipanis prefer a sunny, well-drained position. Keep them drier in winter when they are dormant and feed with a good quality balanced fertiliser a couple of times during the growing season.

Not much bothers these beautiful tropical plants other than frangipani rust, which causes unsightly yellow pustules to form on the undersides of the leaves. The leaves may then fall prematurely, and, although it won't kill a mature tree, it can weaken young plants.

If you are determined to keep your trees rust-free, then you need to diligently remove all fallen leaves and spray the undersides of the leaves with a fungicide every few weeks. Use a horticultural oil to help the fungicide adhere to the leaves.

Remember that the spores are carried on the wind, so it's very difficult to keep the rust at bay if there are other infected trees in the neighbourhood.


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