Field of Science

Ubiquitous Tropical Flora

UTF is short-hand for a set of common tropical ornamentals that have been moved around the world such that you expect to see them virtually everywhere. A relative sent the Phactor a set of pictures from Hawaii because they were so excited about the plants they saw there, but not a one was native, not a one belonged there. Still some of them are quite wonderful, but maybe none has a more beautiful flower or floral fragrance than frangipani (Plumeria rubra). The specimen in our glasshouse, now in full bloom, has yellow-centered creamy white flowers; other varieties have pink to rose colored flowers. Note that the corolla lobes for a pinwheel and they are so twisted in the bud. This is a tell-tale for members of the dogbane family (now part of a lineage with the milkweeds to whom they are closely related). And frangipani does smell wonderful. My students capture the fragrance by placing several sliced open fresh floral tubes on a layer of purified vegetable fat ("Crisco") in a petri dish, covering it overnight at room temp, and then replacing the flowers each day for a few days to a week. This is a method of capturing delicate scents is called enfleurage and it can be used with rose petals or orange blossoms or butterfly ginger, whatever. After a few days the fat will be quite well scented, and by rubbing the fat on your skin, or even between your fingers, it releases the fragrance. This can be a pretty fun, low-cost activity for kids, but in the case of frangipani, do take care with the milky sap.

1 comment:

tracy said...

I love plumeria! When I was in Hawaii, I put them in my hair wherever I went. I brought one home, and put it in a container. Haven't quite got the hang of giving it the environment that it needs. It hasn't bloomed yet.