Frangipani Meaning in the Language of Flowers

Frangipani flowers, also called Plumeria, are perhaps one of the most iconic tropical blooms in the world. Even if you didn’t know them by name, chances are you’ll recognize them anywhere. But they’re more than just stunning flowers. Frangipani flowers carry significant symbolic meaning of welcome, support, and wealth. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the meaning, symbolism, and cultural significance of Frangipani.

Ultimate Guide to Frangipani (Plumeria) Meaning and Symbolism

Etymological Meaning

The name Plumeria was inspired by Charles Plumier. He was a monk from France who traveled to the New World in the 1600s and recorded the details of the plant’s botanical characteristics. He’s also responsible for introducing the shrub to the European world/

Unfortunately, the common name, Frangipani, is far less straightforward.

It’s currently attributed to an Italian family of the same name who claimed to have invented a perfume capturing the flower’s scent. Records show that the marquis marketing the perfume claimed to have used the real flower, but in fact, it was a synthetic form that only mimicked the citrus-like scent.

For a plant once found only in a limited part of Central America, frangipani has spread worldwide and established rich symbolism in far-flung cultures. From being a symbol of love in Swahili poetry to representing the meaning of welcome and aloha in Hawaiian, frangipani means something different everywhere you go.

Frangipani Symbolism in Mayan Culture

Close up of pink and orange frangipani flower and leaves

As the native home of the Frangipani plant, it’s no wonder that the Mesoamericans used it symbolically in their religious art. 

Mayan and Aztec cultures left carvings behind depicting the Frangipani flower as a symbol of deities of all kinds. In particular, it’s linked to the birth of deities or the gaining of new powers. 

It was also clearly a sign of fertility and female beauty. Plumeria groves were grown specifically for Aztec nobles to stroll through and enjoy. One can only imagine how the strong fragrance of the flowers was likely associated with wealth, nobility, and strength.

Hawaiian Leis

When I think of frangipani flowers, Hawaiian leis spring to mind immediately.

The tropical Central American plant flourished on the island after it was introduced. Polynesian Islanders call the flower melia and use it to create the lei necklace given to visitors as a symbol of welcome. It’s considered to embody fertility and sexuality as well, much like in its original native range. 

Modern residents of Hawaii and other Polynesian islands often wear one of these blooms over an ear to indicate if they’re single.

National Flower of Laos and Nicaragua

Both Laos and Nicaragua have selected the Frangipani bloom as their national flower, although neither country primarily uses that term to refer to it. 

In Laos, the same flower is usually known as Dok Champa. If you visit Nicaragua and admire the beautiful Sacuanjoche blossom, you’re still looking at a beautiful Plumeria blossom. 

No matter the name, the beauty and fragrance of the flower are the same.

Hinduism and the Frangipani

Whit frangipani flowers in tree

While Frangipani once didn’t grow in Southeast Asia, it was introduced centuries ago and has been featured in religious art since then. Folk beliefs attribute a link between the flowers and ghosts or other supernatural entities. 

In India, Hindu temples often rely on incense blends featuring a strong note of Frangipani. These incensees are often designated by the name champa, such as nag champa, because it’s the common term for the flower in India. 

For Bengali people, the flower symbolizes death and grieving, while Balinese Hindus use it as an offering in temple services.

Frangipani Symbolism in Buddhism

Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia feature dense plantings of the Frangipani tree or shrub. It can be associated with graveyards or used as an entrance area to encourage the right religious mindset before entering the temple. 

Some Buddhist cultures also use the Frangipani as a bridal flower, but only in cream or white colors. Red Frangipani is only ever used for grave offerings or during funerals due to the color’s association with death.

Common Frangipani Flower Colors and What They Mean

Close up of yellow and white frangipani flowers with leaves in the background
  • Red: Passion, intensity, courage, strength, and romance.
  • Pink: Friendships, budding romance, personal growth, and hope.
  • Cream: Elegance, maturity, good luck, and devotion.
  • White: Purity, innocence, clarity, cleanliness, and recovery.
  • Orange: Energy, friendship, support, growth, and good luck.
  • Yellow: Optimism, hope, joy, cheerfulness, and fun.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Frangipani Flowers

Whit frangipani flowers in a glass vase

Consider giving a bundle of fragrant Frangipani blooms during a challenging time in your friend’s life, such as losing a loved one or an unwanted career change. 

Colorful Frangipani sends a message of support easily tailored by selecting the right color. Red blooms can send a romantic message, but remember that’s not common to all cultures.

Wrapping Up

Don’t just admire Frangipani as a perfume ingredient. Give the creamy blooms a place of honor in your floral arrangements as well, thanks to their aesthetic beauty and rich meaning and symbolism.

Further reading: Ultimate Guide to Floriography

Contributing Editor | jade@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Jade is a writer, editor, and photographer with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations. She writes, edits, and photographs for several online publications in the gardening and lifestyle sphere. In her spare time, she reads and nurtures her urban garden and evergrowing houseplant collection.

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