Love In The Time Of Plumeria

I’m not sure when my gardening mind turned to — for want of a better term — composted manure, but I’m pretty positive I know the exact moment I realized it. I was mowing the lawn, daydreaming while I worked, and an idea — one that was already well known to me, you, and everyone else, but seemed like a fresh discovery — popped into my head.

Trees can be grown from seeds.

I know! Believe me, I have shaken and smacked my head countless times. I mean, what was I thinking? I’ve grown begonias from seeds as fine as powder, coconut trees from seeds as large as, well, coconuts — and everything in between — which is why I cannot understand why it never occurred to me that I could achieve the same results with frangipani, which also goes by the scientific name plumeria.

The only excuse I have — and it’s a lame one — is that this small tropical flowering tree is super-easy to propagate. Simply prune branches into 8” to 12” segments, allow the wound to heal, and place that cut segment into some soil.

That’s how I received my frangipani, from a branch cutting won at a gardening club meeting — and that’s how I’ve rooted more trees for my own garden and for friends and neighbors.

The only problem with this method is that I can only produce new trees that are identical to my mother tree, which has hot pink flowers. The more I’ve grown to love this tree, the more interested I’ve become in new, more exotic colors — rather than the usual colors, pink, white, and yellow, seen in most Florida landscapes.

Local nurseries seem hard-pressed to stock frangipani, I believe because they’re so easy to propagate from branch cuttings. The more unusual colors are often sold in decorative pots, which is then reflected in the price. My Plan B was to search online — but that resulted in sellers located in Thailand and other tropical locales, which translated into ridiculous shipping costs for a single branch cutting.

I resigned myself, then, that I would have to be content with my hot pink variety and to be on the lookout for any exotic-colored varieties in private gardens — because I never thought frangipani could be grown from seed. There I go smacking my head again!

I can’t even tell you how the light bulb turned on in my brain. I can’t even tell you how I realized something so obvious was staring me in the face, but I’m sure my inner conversation went something like this: “Hey, wait a minute. How did frangipani propagate before humans figured out they could simply cut a branch and plant it?”

Seeds! Frangipani, aka plumeria, are trees and trees can be grown from seeds! It was an a-ha, head-smacking moment, to say the least.

I returned to eBay and found a USA-based seller with a wide assortment of frangipani seeds. I ordered two packages — 15 seeds — for $20. I selected an orange-center variety that fades to white and then lavender at the edges, and a soft lavender variety with a hot red center.

The seeds resemble maple seeds, helicopter-like so the wind can carry them and they can whirlybird down to the ground — because, as I now constantly remind myself,  frangipani are trees and trees can be grown from seed.

I planted the seeds in communal pots, leaving the “wings” above the soil. By the end of the week, nearly all of them had sprouted. Once the first true set of leaves appear, I’ll treat them as I would any seedling. Each will eventually be transplanted into its own pot.

I’m not sure how long it will take for these seedlings to mature and flower — or even when I’ll be able to prune branches for propagation — but I’m relieved to know two things:

  1. My brain isn’t complete composted manure. It’s just a little muddy at times, but eventually it all comes together; and
  2. Frangipani are trees and trees can be grown from seed.

I’m still smacking my head.

2 thoughts on “Love In The Time Of Plumeria

  1. First, job well done on your post title! I loved that.

    And I am amazed at what you’re undertaking with seed propagation of plumeria, Kevin. I’m very impressed. My stepson had lived in Hawaii most of his life, and when he relocated to Southern California a few years ago he was really “into” plumeria. With his death, I’ve now inherited several new cuttings and I’m currently letting them harden. I wish I could share some of the cuttings with you and speed along your tree development, but even with my new abundance, you have me very interested in trying to see what I might do with seeds. You inspire me. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I’m sorry to hear of your stepson’s passing — but how lovely that he was able to share his passion with you. In a sense, he lives on — and you, in turn, of pieces of him to share, as well. By all means, try the seeds — it’s a way to find more exotic colors, although I have a feeling your stepson may have discovered some beauties in Hawaii. (By the way, I’m glad you liked the title… Naming these things is half the fun for me.)

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