Cooperative Extension Service
Ornamentals and Flowers
Plumeria rubra L., P. obtusa L., and hy-
requires full sun and grows best in well
brids. Apocynaceae (dogbane)family. The
drained, slightly acidic soil. It has moder-
names acuminata, acutifolia, and lutea are
ate wind resistance and salt tolerance. For
botanical variety names that have been in-
best growth and flowering in the land-
correctly used to represent species names.
scape, irrigation is needed during dry pe-
Common names: plumeria, frangipani,
riods. The trees reach maturity (full size)
melia (Hawaiian), temple tree, and many
in about five years. Plumeria can be grown
to a relatively large size in large tubs.
Plumeria is native to tropical America.
In Hawaii, it is grown as an ornamental
The usual way to propagate plumeria is
and is not found in the wild. It has wide-
by cuttings, because this method maintains
spread use in tropical landscapes around
the selected cultivar. Tip cuttings 1–2 ft
the world and is frequently associated with
long should be allowed to “cure” in a dry
temples and graveyards.
place for at least two weeks before plant-
ing. Plant them in well drained soil in the
Plumeria is generally a small tree growing
landscape or in a pot. Do not water too
to about 30 ft high. Its broad, usually round-headed canopy
much or too often while rooting is occurring. Treatment of
is often about as wide as the tree is tall. The species and
the base of the cutting with a rooting compound (0.3% in-
hybrids vary somewhat in tree size, compactness, and
dolebutyric acid) enhances rooting but is not a requirement
branching character, leaf and flower size and color, and
for rooting. The young root systems are brittle, and trans-
deciduousness. The leaves are usually glossy green but may
planting, if necessary, must be done carefully. Do not leave
be dull green; they are generally ovate, may be blunt-tipped
plants in small containers too long, or the circling roots
(P. obtusa) or pointed (P. rubra var. acuminata or var.
will cause problems of weak establishment when the plant
acutifolia), and range from 2 to 4 inches wide and 8 to 12
is transplanted into the landscape.
inches long. In deciduous types, the leaves fall during win-
Plumeria can be propagated from seed collected from
tertime, and new leaves emerge during or following the
a tree, but seed is not commercially available. Seed from
spring flowering period. P. obtusa and its hybrids tend to
plants with white flowers produces mostly white-flowered
retain their foliage year-round. The flowers are tubular,
seedlings. Similarly, dark red will produce red, and yellow
expanding into a “pinwheel” of five petals that averages 2–
will produce yellow, but pinks and multicolored plants are
3 inches diameter and may be white, red, yellow, pink, or
more likely to produce a range of colors in the seedlings.
multiple colors. Flowers of most cultivars are highly fra-
Flower quality is unpredictable, although it will tend to
grant and bloom from March to October. The hybrids differ
reflect the parent plant.
in their profusion of blooms, with some producing more
Collect seeds when the pod splits open and sow them
than 200 flowers per cluster and others only 50–60 flowers.
shallowly in pots or trays. Dry seeds will keep for about
Plumerias only occasionally produce seed. When pol-
three months in a plastic bag before beginning to lose vi-
linated, the flower produces two hard, narrow, pointed pods
ability. Seeds germinate in about two weeks. Transplant
up to 7 inches long containing 20–60 winged seeds. Matu-
seedlings to individual pots when 1 or 2 pairs of true leaves
ration of the seed pods is usually in early spring from a
have developed, and move the plant up to a larger con-
previous season’s pollination.
tainer until it is large enough to plant out.
With plants started from cuttings, flowers can be ex-
Location and landscape uses
pected within the first year, depending on the original cut-
Plumeria is a common ornamental in yards and other
ting size and the time of year that it was taken, although
planned landscapes. It is easy to grow in hot, dry areas and
only limited production will occur. Seedlings take three
is found in Hawaii from sea level to 2000 ft elevation. It
years or more to produce flowers.
Published by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June
30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Charles W. Laughlin, Director and Dean, Cooperative Extension Service, CTAHR, University
of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822. An Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Institution providing programs and services to the people of Hawaii without
regard to race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court record, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
CTAHR — Feb. 1998
bounds. The borer is especially destructive, as its damage
When plumeria is grown for commercial flower produc-
is done inside the stems where insecticides are ineffective.
tion, it is planted 10 ft apart within rows 12–15 ft apart and
Immediate removal of affected branches and their destruc-
pruned to keep the canopy low, encourage branching, and
tion is the only present recommendation, because spray-
make harvesting the flowers more convenient. Branched
ing with insecticide would need to be carried out too fre-
cuttings are selected for propagating, and the branch axil
quently to prevent egg-laying by the adult beetle. Plumeria
is set low to the ground to result in a shorter-statured plant.
is most susceptible to this insect when under stress.
Once established in the ground, a plumeria can reach 10–
12 feet in 6 years, given adequate fertilizer and moisture.
Plumeria flowers are excellent lei flowers and are especially
Fertilize plumeria with 10-30-10 every three to four
common and traditional for home-made leis. To harvest the
months at about 1 lb per inch of trunk diameter, distribut-
flowers, grasp individual blossoms at the base and remove
ing the fertilizer around the the plant to 2 feet beyond the
from the plant with a gentle tug. Blooms may be strung
lengthwise on strings about 38–40 inches long, or the lei
Pruning is easiest in winter, following leaf drop, but
may be formed by stringing the flowers crosswise through
heavy pruning sacrifices the spring bloom. Many old trees
the lower part of the flower tube. Flowers can be kept for
in home landscapes have responded well to the pruning
several days in a plastic bag in 48–55°F temperatures.
practice known as pollardingy. Stems that are shriveled and
All parts of the plant exude a milky sap when dam-
bent have been infested with the plumeria stem borer and
aged. The sap may irritate eyes and skin.
should be removed back to their juncture with a main branch
(or lower if there is internal discoloration) and destroyed.
Many criteria can be used to select plumerias for a resi-
Pests and diseases
dence or a landscape. Lei flower producers are mostly con-
Plumeria has few disease problems. The plumeria rust
cerned with productivity.
(Coleosporium plumeria Pat.) is of fairly recent occurrence
Use may be as an accent or specimen plant or for flower
in Hawaii. It consists of orange blistering or powder on the
production (leis, hair adornments, or simply for their fra-
underside of leaves, and it develops after prolonged wet
grance). P. obtusa (Singapore plumeria) is frequently used
periods. The leaves may fall if the rust is severe. Both P.
in mass plantings. Availability of named plumerias is some-
rubra and P. obtusa are susceptible, but some of the uncom-
mon species appear to be resistant. While fungicides spe-
Growth character. Some cultivars are upright and com-
cific for rust control are effective, they are not normally used,
pact, while others are lanky and open and others sprawl.
as the disease rarely is severe enough to damage the plant.
Dwarf types are becoming available with good evergreen
A black sooty mold develops on stems and leaves when
foliage, but the flower qualities are poor. The P. rubra types
scale insects, whiteflies, or mealybugs are present. These
are deciduous, while P. obtusa and other white-flowered
insects exude a sweet, sticky honeydew upon which the
Plumeria species are evergreen. Ease of rooting is also a
fungus flourishes. Although unsightly, the fungus does not
consideration in selection.
harm the tree (although the insects weaken it). Ants nour-
Flower qualities include color, size, petal fullness and over-
ish the insects and carry them up into the trees. The control
lap, fragrance, keeping quality, and tendency to fade.
for the sooty mold problem lies with control of the insects.
Flower productivity. On some cultivars, up to 60 percent
Plumeria may be attacked by the long-horned beetle
of the branch tips will set a flower cluster, while others set
(plumeria stem borer), thrips, a blossom midge, greenhouse
flowers only on 10 percent of their branches. Some culti-
and spiraling whiteflies, and mites. Normally, existing
vars have only a spring peak of bloom, while others will
predatory insects keep populations of most of these in
produce a second or even a third set of blooms in a long
growing season. In general, compact plants with short
yPollarding is a pruning practice in which a framework of branches is estab-
branches bloom more heavily, while lanky plants produce
lished with yearly pruning back on each to a point called the pollard head. This
head develops a number of growing points as a result of the pruning, and each
more sparingly. A single inflorescence may bear flowers
year a new group of shoots is produced. In plumeria, the new shoots may de-
for five months, although the last flowers are small and
velop flowers late in the year if pollarding is done during the dormant season.
Pollarding during the summer growing season will produce a series of short
branches that will not set a flower head but will go dormant in fall and grow out
as longer branches the next year, many of which will flower in late summer.
Richard A. Criley
zPlumeria cultivar names are registered with the Plumeria Society of America
Department of Horticulture
(PO Box 22791, Houston, TX 77227-2791).