Gardening: The Fragrant Frangipani

By Andrea Pavee

On my daily walks, I have chanced upon many a Frangipani tree, along the roads, and in the homes of many a resident within the area.

Nothing quite elicits the exotic like the Frangipani tree with its many vibrant colours and delicate fragrance. Hence, its popularity.

However, it was not too long ago when the Frangipani tree was considered taboo in homes, especially within the melting pot of cultures in Southeast Asia.

In some cultures, the tree was thought to bring bad luck, whilst in others, its branches were thought to harbour evil spirits bent on wreaking havoc to hapless victims passing beneath its boughs. Still others believed that the sweet fragrance of its flowers lured the female vampire or pontianak to its surrounds.

The fact that Frangipani trees dotted old graveyards did not help in quelling those beliefs.

If there ever was a prize for a Comeback Kid, this tree would win it hands down. Today, it flourishes in every nook and cranny in homes and along roadsides. In short, everywhere and in every culture!

Frangipani trees come in a variety of colourful blooms; pure white, white-yellow, pink and red, amongst others. While some gardens sport a single tree, bigger gardens have may have more than one, each sporting a different coloured bloom.

My first frangipani trees bloomed white and pink flowers. To me, those trees were the most beautiful in the garden.

My garden has since morphed and today, while the white bloomed tree still homes with me, the pink one did not make it. In her place, we have a tree which blooms deep red instead.

While the Frangipani tree has always had a special place in my heart, this tree has one drawback which occasionally exacts a steep price when cultivating and growing them.

As lush and beautiful as these trees are, they are prone to a fungal infection, colloquially known as Frangipani Rust, which present as brown spots or lesions on either the top or the bottom of the leaves. Not all trees are able to withstand the onslaught of the rust.

You can try asking your local nursery for a good fungicide to help curb and kill the fungal spores although there is no 100% guarantee of success. The best advice of pruning off rusty leaves still holds true, no matter how young the leaves are.

A dear friend, stopped planting the Frangipani anywhere in her home when during an infection, the fungus proceeded to wipe out all her other plants, in addition to the sickened tree. Being an avid gardener, she was naturally heartbroken. 

Aeons ago, on a family trip to the island of Bali, we decided to list hotel-hopping as part of our itinerary. Bali, as a huge tourist hotspot, has hundreds of hotels and hotel-hopping is a popular activity for those who have the time, and inclination to do so.

At the Front Office of one of the hotels we stopped by, I was captivated by a Frangipani tree planted in a small oval of green grass. It was planted next to a Bougainvillea bush, which had over time, grown into a tree of equal height. As they were planted at the same time, over the years, their branches had intertwined to form a complete whole.

At the time of our visit, both trees were in bloom. We were greeted with huge clusters of white Frangipani blooms, interspersed and overlapped by cascading blooms of white Bouganvillea. The sight took my breath away. Note to self, I should consider doing this when I move back home although I will place these trees well away from any of my other plants!

p.s. On another trip to Hoi An, Vietnam a few years ago, we stayed in a resort which housed hundreds of Frangipani trees, in addition to their guests. To keep the fungus away, they periodically pruned off whole branches in the low season, thereby encouraging the fresh sprouting of new leaves and flowers. I think they were on to something.

p.p.s. The Frangipani loves sunshine and is an easy plant to propagate. Just cut off a decent sized stem with branches (approximately 2-3 feet), stick it into the ground and watch it grow!

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 17 June 2021

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