Monday, April 9, 2012
Species name: Plumeria rubra
Common names: Red frangipani, common frangipani, plumeria, temple tree
Plumerias are some of my favourite flowers. They’re not usually found in flower shops because the flowers come from trees as opposed to bushy-like growth of plants like roses or gladiolas, which makes them harder to harvest. This particular species of Plumeria has pinkish flowers with yellow along the inner edge of each petal, while other species have yellow petals with white along the inner edge, or even pure white flowers. They are native to Mexico, Central and South America, but now most widely grown in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.). These trees are also very popular in Hawaii where they serve as some of the main flowers used in the construction of a lei. Other than purely ornamental use, Plumeria has also become a popular scent in perfumes where essential oils are used.
Plumerias have a much stronger smell at night than they do during the day, in order to attract their main pollinator. The pollinator, a giant moth (literally -- Sphinx moths are huge), is attracted to the flower by its smell and searches for nectar. This search is all for nothing since these flowers don't actually produce any nectar! Poor moth. Inadvertently, the moth transfers pollen from one flower to another in its search for food. One of many examples of coercion of insect pollination by the plant kingdom, and equally one of many examples of a unilateral symbiosis: the plant gains the ability to cross-pollinate, while the moth gains nothing at all (except a few grey hairs out of frustration, if that were possible).
There is no known medicinal use of any species of plumeria, and the sap produced in wounds of young branches is often irritating to the skin (although it seems as though some people are relatively resistant to this sort of irritation).