Two of the best loved (sub)tropical trees or large shrubs for a very warm and sheltered spot are the Australian and tropical Frangipani. While these two plants carry the same common name, they are miles apart botanically.The Australian Frangipani, Hymenosporum, also goes by the name "Sweet Shade". This name seems more appropriate as the tree provides excellent light shade and the most exquisite perfume from blooms that smother the tree from late spring through early summer. These blooms are cream through light yellow and into golden orange in some varieties.
The flowers do look very much like the tropical frangipani blooms but are somewhat smaller trumpets with petals that often twist backward slightly. Hymenosporum is the only member of this genus, closely related to pittosporum, and is native to Queensland and New South Wales. The trees are evergreen with handsome foliage that can tolerate light frosts but defoliate with any significant freezing or if subjected to prolonged cold winds or wintry conditions.
The trees have an upright habit of growth, usually reaching about 6m x 3m but specimens can reach 50ft. The branch structure is quite open which makes these excellent trees to scatter light shade over other more delicate shrubs. Frequent pruning of the tip growth from an early age and after flowering will keep the trees much more compact. Give them a very sunny aspect in most well-draining soils, sheltered from the worst winds and weather for best results.The true Frangipani is botanically known as Plumeria.
These bold shrubs or small trees are native of the West Indies and Central America. Plumeria is named in honour of Charles Plumier, a 17th century French botanist specialising in tropical flora. Frangipani is named after Major General Marquis Frangipani from the court of Louis XIV. These are truly tropical shrubs with thick, fleshy branches and large, handsome, spear-shaped leaves with prominent veins that exude a sticky, white latex when broken or picked.
The 5 petalled flowers are 5-6cm across in large clusters at the ends of the thick, succulent branches. While white is most common, these deeply fragrant blooms also come in shades of cream, yellow, pink, red, and salmon. Each colour has a slightly different perfume. Frangipani needs true tropical heat and humidity to perform well. Only the most sheltered corners with highest possible soil and air temperatures will keep them alive in cool New Zealand.
They are more frequently grown in containers that are moved to a very warm, sheltered and dry spot (often indoors) for winter. Once conditions warm outside they are placed in a very sunny, warm spot. Water lightly until growth begins then feed and water weekly when conditions are warm. Avoid watering or feeding under cold conditions or the stem and canes will rot.
To start a new plant break off a cane whose cut end should dry out for a day or two before being plunged into sand or light potting soil. If started in spring, new growth will be almost immediate.
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