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Plumeria Frangipani Plants and Their History


Hi everybody,

I thought I share an article I recently published about the history of Plumeria Frangipani plants with you for everybody interested in the history of plants….

Plumerias are indigenious to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The very first known description of the plumeria is found in the Badianus Manuscript in 1522.

The Badianus Manuscript is a sixteenth century Aztec herbal medicine book written in both the Aztec language and Latin by Martin Cruz and Juannes Badianus, both Aztec Indians, educated at the College of Santa Cruz at Tlaltelco Mexico City. The text is accompanied by beautifully colored illustrations of the herbs and trees found in this complete herbal medicine book.

Don Francisco de Mendoza, whose name is historically associated with the Badianus Manuscript, was the second son of the first Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza. Don Francisco de Mendoza sent the Badianus Manuscript back to Spain as a gift to King Charles V.

Through history and individuals connected to the Vatican the Badianus Manuscript ended up hidden in the Vatican Library. It was re-discovered there in 1929 by historian Professor Charles Clark. In 1991 Pope John Paul II returned it to Mexico. It is now in the Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.

Plumeria, originally spelled Plumieria, is named after the famous French Franciscan monk and botanist, Charles Plumier. He is considered one of the most important botanical explorers of his time.

He made three trips to the Caribbean during the period of 1689 to 1697. Upon his return from the first trip in 1690, he received the title of “Royal Botanist” from King Louis XIV of France.

All natural scientists of his day spoke of him with great admiration. His well known French botanist and teacher, Joseph Pitton De Tournefort, who also traveled to the New World with his student, and Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, recognized his work and they named in Charles Plumier’s honor the genus Plumeria which belongs to the family Apocynaceae. Since then it has been called Plumeria with the name of Plumeroideae for its first subfamily.

Today all his texts, notes and drawings are located in the Central Library of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France.

Dr. William Hillebrand, a German physician and botanist, who was born in Neiheim, Germany in 1821, lived on Hawaii from 1851 to 1871, and died in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1886. He is known as the person who brought the first plumeria to Hawaii around 1860. Today this plumeria is known worldwide as ‘Celadine’.

Dr. Hillebrand had a strong presence and made significant contributions to the Hawaiian people during his twenty year stay there. He became the appointed physician to the royal family at The Queen’s Hospital, now the present day Queen’s Medical Center. He, along with nine other doctors, petitioned for and was granted a charter for today’s Hawai’i Medical Association and he served as the chief physician at the hospital from 1860 to 1871.

In 1853 Dr. Hillebrand purchased 13 acres of land from Queen Kalama and over the years he planted a number of exotic and native trees in his garden. Some were brought back from his travels on behalf of the Hawaiian Government to collect and import plants and animals that would be useful to the Islands.

Prior to his return to Germany Dr. Hillebrand sold the property and developed garden to Captain Thomas and Mary Foster. Years later Mary Foster bequeathed the land to the city of Honolulu, which opened it to the public as Forster Botanical Garden in 1930. Local Hawaiians and visitors from all over the world continue to visit these beautiful gardens today.

In the 1930s the first cutting of Plumeria obtusa was brought to Hawaii by Harold L. Lyon from the famous Singapore Botanical Gardens, noted for their long history of plant research and study throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Today this evergreen variety is known as Plumeria obtusa ‘Singapore’.

Mr. Lyon was the founder and director of the Manoa Arboretum which was established in 1918 by the Hawaiian Sugar Planter’s Association, HSPA, to demonstrate watershed restoration and test various tree species for reforestation, as well as collect living plants of economic value. This unique rainforest arboretum bears his name, Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, today.

Bill M. Moragne Sr. was the first to discover how to hand-pollinate plumerias in 1953. Since then countless hybrids of spectacular beauty with intoxicating fragrances have been created by the process of hand-pollination thanks to Bill M. Moragne Sr.

Unlike Mexico, the Caribbean island nations and the Central American countries, the native habitat of the plumeria, Hawaii has made itself synonymous with the plumeria by commercializing it.

Even though the plumeria is not native to the Hawaiian Islands most of the world travelers to these Islands have lasting memories of receiving a lei made up of these beautifully scented tropical flowers on their arrival or departure.

The Hawaiian Islands is the number one place in the world that people associate with the word ‘plumeria’. Hawaii’s commercialization of the plumeria goes far beyond the famous Hawaiian leis. It also includes the sale of plumeria seeds, seedlings, rooted and unrooted cuttings, fresh flowers and freshly handmade leis. Other plumeria related products include perfumes, scented candles, plumeria designed jewelry and clothing, prints, photos and cards.

Thanks to the Hawaiian Islands people from all around the world have fallen in love with the plumeria, which they first met there.

Copyright © Bob Walsh 2013

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Wonderful description of the work of these plant hunters.
I was wondering last week why you were quiet Bob.
Hope you are keeping well.

3 Aug, 2013


Thanks for the info.

3 Aug, 2013


Wonderful story of a wonderful plant! Thanks, Bob. :-))

I have never seen these plants except in photos but I saw it for the very first time some years ago when my wife bought her laptop. It's desktop wallpaper was a lovely picture of these plants. I liked it so much I got my wife to email me a copy & I used it as my desktop wallpaper on my computer for some months, too!

5 Aug, 2013

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