Fabulous frangipani

Carolyn Leuschke was on honeymoon in Bali when she began a new love affair. Fortunately, husband Mark has been entirely supportive in the decades since as her passion for Plumeria trees has showed no signs of waning.

The couple, both Kiwis, lived in Sydney for a number of years and made regular trips to Bali. “We went back for a wedding anniversary and most nights sat on the beach for dinner under the frangipani trees. It was heaven.”

So when she moved to Tauranga’s coast more than 20 years ago it was natural that Carolyn planted a few frangipani trees and it was in 2017, while looking for another tree for her garden, that this former business manager opted for a major career change and ended up purchasing stock for a collection and small nursery.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The first plants in her collection originated in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands with plants being all cutting-grown. Although frangipani seeds are readily available in New Zealand, trees grown from seed generally don’t flower true to colour.

The trees, which have many common names including everlasting tree and temple flower, bloom from about mid-November to about mid-March with the cream-yellow flower being the most common and the most fragrant.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Most people probably think they don’t look much when they’re dormant but I love seeing the sculptural shape of the tree revealed,” says Carolyn. “I love them at every stage and in every season.”

The Frangipani Hut is not open to the public. For more information see the website or phone 027 391 6321.

Focus on Frangipani:

  • Planting a tree or putting a pot against a north-facing brick wall in free-draining medium is ideal – the bricks will provide heat release through winter.
  • Trees respond well to pruning in late winter, but remember flowering doesn’t occur on new wood.
  • Sunlight hours – at least 6 a day – trigger flowering.
  • Frangipani hate wet feet. If planting in heavy soil add gravel/stones to the hole to help drainage.
  • Water well over summer but rarely during winter, only starting again as new leaves appear.
  • Don’t fertilise during dormancy (see below). During growth, diluted liquid fish fertiliser or seaweed solution is good. 
  • Mulch around the trunk (but not right up to the truck) to keep roots cool in summer and warm in winter and help retain moisture.
  • The trees like to be in a breeze but not strong winds. They may need staking.
  • Some trees produce aerial roots – when these are established prune the branch below the roots and pot up the cutting.
  • Trees go into dormancy by shedding their leaves and must be protected from frost. Move potted trees into shelter in autumn.
A Balinese man wears a frangipani flower for a religious procession. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although we associate frangipani flowers with the Pacific, the trees are native to Mexico and Central America. The tree’s Latin name comes from 17th century botanist and French monk Charles Plumier, while its common name recognises 16th century Italian nobleman Marquis Frangipani, who was known for a perfume he created to scent gloves.

This article was originally published in NZ Gardener magazine and appears here with permission.