The Scent of Hawaii

Plumeria, or frangipani, is a native plant to warm tropical areas like the Pacific Islands, Caribbean, South America and Mexico. The beautiful blossoms are almost synonymous with the spirit of aloha and recognized as the quintessential lei flower. With varying sweet aromas from jasmine to gardenia, plumerias are among the most fragrant flowers in the islands and can be found almost everywhere. Plumeria blossoms range in a variety of vibrant colors and combinations from whites, pinks, oranges and yellows. The plant thrives where climates are mild and rarely cold. The trees have widely spaced, thick branches that spawn dark-green leaves in clusters near the branch tips. This is an ever-blooming species that also retains its flowers and leaves during tropical winter months, so you’ll almost always find these flowers year-round. Plumerias contain a milky sap that can irritate the eyes, so use caution if picking from the tree. Once picked, flowers remain fresh in water or in the refrigerator for several days, ideal for the garland of aloha. It is common that you will see many islanders tuck a plumeria blossom behind the ear as wearing the flower is a custom here in Hawaii and in other parts of Polynesia. Take care, however, to choose the correct ear—a blossom placed behind the right ear means you are single or available, while placing it behind the left, signals you’re already taken.

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