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Green Acre #480: Lei, Lady, Lei

Those weird nubbins at the top of the “stick” are the efflorescence that presages frangipani / plumeria blooms. I hope. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

MY FINGERS quiver. 

We brought a couple of healthy cuttings of plumeria (frangipani) back from Florida this winter and, for once, I did what I was told: let the bottom of each 10-inch branch harden off (dry out) before popping the cuttings in pots, indoors at first, then moving them to the garden after last frost date. 

If you’re not familiar with frangipani/plumeria, it’s the plant that bears perhaps the Earth’s most gloriously scented and beautiful, orchid-like flowers—flowers that Hawaiians weave into leis to welcome tourists at airports and drape the breasts of hula dancers. 

This is the plumeria on the porch, putting out greenery but not a single blossom. It started out as a 12-inch stick. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Lusting after the scent, I ordered a branch—which looks much like a stick—for $20, from a grower in Florida. This branch has come back every year for four years, ever bigger and leafier, but with no sign of flowers—or efflorescence, as the flower head is called—despite my setting it in the sunniest spot on the front porch for the summer, talking to it each morning, and staring at the emerging leaves, wondering what the F an efflorescence looks like. All I knew was that one was needed to flower. 

The two branches I brought back this year, snipped from a willing small tree, were planted in late April in a large coffin-shaped box The Prince built many years ago for an unplantable area near the curb where we have had a remarkable lack of success getting anything other than ivy to grow.

Amazingly, one stick is about to flower. (The other is just throwing off leaves, like the old one on the porch.) Once you see an efflorescence, it’s pretty obvious. A rather ugly burble of plant material emerges, like a cluster of pustules, bubbling up at the top of the stick. 

This is where the trembling fingers come in. I really need to move it. Those flowers are going to prove irresistible to street bandits: I know this because I would have a hard time keeping my own grubby paws off something so splendid, scented, and easy to make off with.  

But it’s nearly 100 degrees out, with no sign of rain for the foreseeable future. Dare I risk that precious efflorescence? Risk no flowers AGAIN?

But needs must! I shall go forth and fill a terracotta pot, turban-shaped like something a djinn would wear, with soil, replant my stick, move it to safety, water it well, shut my eyes, rub the pot’s belly, and wish for success. 

Thrilling potato note! Several weeks ago, I mentioned planting russet potatoes that had been around too long, that had become pimpled with nasty-looking wormy white bits that are called tubers or sprouts, which (upon semi-thorough) investigation, I understood would grow into flowering plants, if planted.

I’ve grown sweet-potato vines for years, but never thought of planting russets, or seen the plants for sale. Chopping one of my potatoes into bits, with the wormy things facing up, I stuck them in a pot on the front porch that had a bit of room for experiments, and lo! This past weekend an adorable little plant emerged, all leafy and green. Maybe this fall I’ll have . . . a potato?

Next week: Is it too late to plant anything new this summer? Short answer, nope.

This burst of greenery is what came of the russet potato pieces I planted in the ground a few weeks ago. Next, a potato? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.


2 thoughts on “Green Acre #480: Lei, Lady, Lei

  1. stephane cavanaugh says:

    Well…. the replanting didn’t happen. The roots are already so deep and strongly…rooted…that I’m afraid to mess with it. Finger’s crossed people will be kind and just sniff not steal the flowers. (The turban pot is BIG, and the mouth is wide, but given the growth of the plant in the coffin, you’re probably right I’d have to break it. Thanks for the advice Alice!)

  2. Alice says:

    Be careful planting that plumie in a turban shaped pot. Once the roots take off, and they will, it will be impossible to move it to a larger container. You will have to break the pot to remove the root ball because of the narrow neck. You have a good looking inflo, good luck with it.

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