Saturday, March 12, 2005

Twenty-One Plumerias

You can tell a lot about people from what kinds of plants they have. I currently have 21 plumerias; I usually also grow peppers, tomatoes, and onions for salad & salsa, too. I'll have to admit, 21 plumerias is a little excessive, but allow me to plead my case.

Once there was a little greenhouse nursery that only did tropical plants, here just outside of Austin. So we showed up on a boring Saturday afternoon and saw these amazing trees that flowered. "What on Earth are those," we asked. "Plumeria, our specialty. That's the Hawaiian lei flower, just like you see on TV." We asked about some of the cheaper models (they can run to $300 a plant) and hooked up with some $12 big ole stragglers that couldn't sell as good.

Frangipani is also a term used to decribe the plant, although it more correctly refers to the sweet scent of the flowers as used in perfume.

Unfortunately, there's not a big market in Austin for plumerias and the place went out of business, shipping their plants and their high-dollar botanist back to Houston. So on the close-out sale, we kinda bought whatever was less than $12, maybe another $90-some bucks or so.

Then we discovered we could mate the things - what's it called, propagation or something? Wierd bats and moths did the job for a few plants but my son figured out how to use a toothpick to cross-fertilize the plants. Basically, most hummingbirds and moths and bats can't get way down to the, err, uvulum or something, so a little help is good.

So what happens when they are mated successfully is that the female whatever thingy grows a big ole seed pod with like a hundred seeds in each one. It looks more like a long bean or something similar, maybe 5-7 inches long, two beans on each side of the stem. When they dry out and crack open, the seeds explode all over and are carried with the wind - which is why we used some of Lori's old nylon stockings to make sure we got a few. Yep, a few folks were asking why I was decorating my plants with hosery! Everyone thought I was a little kinky, too.

Well, those little puppies could certainly grow. I planted 25 seeds and every single one of them sprouted. Through neglect on my part (bummer) about half died, which I guess is par for the course with the botany thing. It tunred out that Eric's hybrid was a common Mexian purple crossed with a true Hawaiian gold, which makes a pretty flower but little of the scent we saw of the parant plants. Not that we are complaining.

We might unload a few plumerias but most are coming down to South Padre Island so we can put them in the ground and not have to dig them up or move them in the garage every year. They really can't handle temperatures below 38 degrees very well, and four hours below 28 degrees will freeze the tips bad, causing them to tuen black. Hey, I know some SPI locals just like that!

Just kidding, too. When we get down there you may have to take a rooting from one of these plants. An amazing plant; it also grows from cuttings if you put them in some water. I'll experiment with some grafting, too, where you can have a plant with three kinds of flowers. Stop by, have some coffee, and check these little boogers out.


Anonymous said...

High Sam!, my Wife and I also love Plumerias. We have only four of the "Singapore Seedling" variety, they are about four feet tall. These are some of the most beautiful plants we have. We also collect Sago Palms and have some large ones. Some of my other favorites are Gardenia and a HUGE fern ( Appx. four ft. high and six ft. wide!). My pride and joy however, is an eight foot tall Australlian Tree Fern which are not supposed to do that well here (They get up to 30 ft. tall). Mabye you should get one for your new home. Anyway we will be on the island from 5/5-5/9, if you would like to get together for some shop talk (SPI :)) let me know. Anyway good luck with the sale of your home.

Ex-Manissean said...

Glad to meet you Sam, I found my way here from Islandvoice.blogspot. I am living in Dallas now but grew up in NY State,Connecticut and Block Island RI. lived in Florida and Puerto Rico too. Been to Padre twice and loved it. Did you ever work on B.I. for John Mott? We had a Sam H. working with us back in the 80s. I have a Plumeria I inherited from my Mom. With the white flowers and yellow centers,Its potted but hadnt bloomed since I replanted. I have since heard they only bloom when rootbound.

Sam said...

Yeah I used to work at the Ganssett and Dead-Eyes bacl before 1976, when I moved to Texas. I saw Johnny Mott two years ago at the Manisses. My brother worked there for 4 years but he and the chef ran off to Martha's Vineyard for more money - like triple! No telling where they're going to get help that cheap again. Not much changed on BI except more houses and boats.

As to your plumeria, if you get around to spring cleaning and such, they love to be re-potted and heavily fertilized. Mine got big so I planted them in the ground and every November 1st jerk them out and throw them in a corner of the garage, no water, no nothing. And they come back every year! You can buy expensive plumeria food but the granular stuff for goold ole roses works just fine. regards ...