The soft, sweet-smelling frangipanis say it is ‘Christmas’…, writes Julie Thomson.

Nothing says ‘Christmas’ to me quite like frangipanis.

The soft, sweet smelling frangis tip me into memories of balmy Brisbane summer evenings, with the pleasing umbrella-shaped trees dropping beautiful blossoms on the lawn and festive tables dressed with bowls of rich, five-petal flowers, their fragrance permeating the house.They are most commonly white or cream with yellow throats, but they range from deep crimson to orange, yellow, pink and white and every shade in between. The further north you go in Australia, the wider the colour choice.

As a child, it was my job to hit up our neighbours on Christmas morning for a bunch of frangipani or hydrangea for our lunch table. The only downside to picking them was the sticky milky (poisonous) sap. They also made up the only bridal bouquet I ever caught. Plumeria rubra and plumeria acutifolia are the most common variety and native to Mexico and Central America, brought to Australia via Polynesia, Melanesia and New Guinea in the late 1800s by the missionaries.

They are deciduous trees, often as wide as they are high. Generally, they grow to about eight metres tall and spread to about four in a dome shape. They take practically no-care, withstanding neglect, heat and drought, insect and pests.It’s one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting – just snap off a twig and plonk it in the ground –after letting it “dry’’ for a few weeks first. They have a well-behaved root system and flower for about six months. As they allow maximum sunlight through their canopy,they are great for underplanting and are especially good hosts for dendrobium orchids.

Charles Plumier, a 17th Century French botanist lent it its botanical name. Frangipani comes from Italian nobleman Marquis Frangipani who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century. I defy you to walk past a bowl of
frangi without dipping your nose in as I did at my local library…aaahhh.