One of the most exotic oils we sell is frangipani. We describe it as ‘rich, heady, exotic, deeply floral’ but that does not do it justice. Together with jasmine, gardenia, lotus, the roses, and a few other flower scents, frangipani is an aristocrat of the sweet, in-your-face, ‘feminine,’ essential oils/absolutes.
Some people baulk at the scent. It’s so sweet. Rose, for example, can be understated. But not frangipani. In its raw form, as an absolute, it grabs you by the throat and may make the eyes water. The variety we sell — plumeria rubra — is coloured blood red.
The frangipani tree enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Frangipani Hawkmoth (pseudosphinx tetrio). The caterpillars are tremendous: six inches long, a poisonous yellow and black, a spike on abdominal segment eight, feeding on the frangipani leaves before pupating and emerging as a moth with a five inch wing-span.
The moth returns to the frangipani flowers, attracted by the perfume, in search of nectar, and a dirty trick is pulled on it: there is no nectar, only pollen, which the moth distributes unwittingly to other trees, causing fertilisation to occur.
There’s much more to be said about frangipani. It has a role in both religion and sex. It is the national tree of Laos (called dok jampa) and every Buddhist temple has one or more in their courtyard.
In Polynesian culture, the frangipani is worn by women to indicate their relationship status – over the right ear if seeking a relationship, over the left if taken.