The genus, originally spelled Plumiera, is named in honor of the seventeenth-century French botanist Charles Plumier, who traveled to the New World documenting many plant and animal species. The common name "Frangipani" comes from an Italian noble family, a sixteenth-century marquess of which invented a plumeria-scented perfume.
Plumeria is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical Americas. The genus consists of mainly deciduous shrubs and trees. P. rubra (Red Frangipani), native to Mexico, Central America and Venezuela, produces flowers ranging from yellow to pink depending on form or cultivar. From Mexico and Central America, Plumeria has spread to all tropical areas of the world, especially Hawaii, where it grows so abundantly that many people think that it is endemic to there.
Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers have no nectar, and simply dupe their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar.
Plumeria species are easily propagated by taking a cutting of leafless stem tips in spring and allowing them to dry at the base before inserting them into soil. They are also propagated via tissue culture both from cuttings of freshly elongated stems and aseptically germinated seed. They are now common naturalised plants in southeastern Asia, and in local folk beliefs provide shelter to ghosts and demons. The scent of the Plumeria has been associated with a vampire in Malay folklore, the pontianak. They are associated with temples in both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, though Hindus do not use the flowers in their temple offerings. In several Pacific islands, such as Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga and the Cook Islands Plumeria is used for making leis. P. alba is the national flower of Nicaragua and Laos. In Bangladeshi culture most white flowers and particularly plumeria are associated with funerals and death.