Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Plumeria

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

Plumeria

My mom has a green thumb, and she's also very creative when it comes to plant names she doesn't remember. When she noticed my "asparagus trees" were blooming, for a moment I had no idea what she was talking about. In fact she was referring to my plumeria plants which do look a lot like giant asparagus most of the year.

I bought my plumeria plants in late winter at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show while I was in college. When the saleswoman offered me a small waxy five-petaled bloom with an intoxicating scent, I had to have one.

As with many sales pitches, what she had for sale did not in any way resemble the plant she had on display in full bloom. What she pulled from under the counter looked like fat stubby shoots of asparagus. But she promised me they would grow and bloom in no time. I left that day with three cuttings, an instruction sheet, and dreams of tropical paradise.

Plumeria need a well-draining potting mix like that used for cacti. I planted the cuttings directly into the potting mix, and placed them in a sunny location. I watered and waited, while my mom rolled her eyes at my latest project, which still looked like asparagus, this time sticking out of pots of sand.

When spring came, the plumeria cuttings began to grow. And grow. And grow. Despite my carefully timed doses of flowering plant fertilizer, I had no blooms that first year, or the next. Each winter they sat leafless and dormant in the corner, and each spring I had high hopes for blooms.

Then about three years after I planted them, they bloomed for months on end. My mom admitted that the "asparagus trees" weren't so bad after all. And each year from late August through the fall I have a slice of tropical paradise in Illinois.

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