Plumeria has a rich history surrounding its name, enticing fragrance, pastry and lore. It has several names that include a fragrance and a dessert.
This name for plumeria is associated with fragrance, perfumes, creams and soaps especially in Europe and the old world.
Actually, the history of the name is muddled.
The Frangipani family was a powerful Roman patrician clan in the Middle Ages. The name comes from frangi “breaking” + pani “bread,” a reference to the family’s distribution of bread in time of famine. In the sixteenth-century this noble family in Italy claimed to invent a plumeria-scented perfume (in reality they made a synthetic perfume that was said that resembled the odor of the recently discovered flowers).
This family’s name became attached to the plumeria when apparently either a Marquise, his wife or his nephew or someone related, sold this perfume for riding gloves. Due to the fact that riding gloves really stank in the 16th-century (because people rode horses all day), it was important to have a strong fragrance hiding the smell. Because the perfume was a big success, when the flower became well known in Europe, the flower was named for this fragrance.
Frangipane is the singular form of the family name Frangipani and an alternate spelling of the Italian name. But more famously frangipane is the name of a pastry ingredient. Similar to a marzipan, it’s a mixture of almond flour, egg, sugar and butter. Supposedly the smell of almonds, sugar and some spices reminded people of the the fragrance of the plumeria/frangipani flower. It may also be associated because “pane” means bread. It’s the filling in an almond croissant as well as the French Epiphany (Three Kings Day) cake contain frangipane almond cream. In Britain, the cake itself is called a frangipane.
The plumeria family (genus) is named in honor of the seventeenth-century French botanist Charles Plumier. He traveled to the New World, particularly the Caribbean where our plumeria are mostly from. Plumier is considered one of the most important of the botanical explorers of his time, documenting many plant and animal species. He made three botanizing expeditions to the West Indies, which resulted in a massive work Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera (1703–04) and was appointed botanist to king Louis XIV of France.
Plumeria is also called lei flower, because it was used frequently in the past and given to visitors. Popular due to its large size, lasting fragrance, and because it’s sturdy structure makes it easy to string. Plumeria also grows vigorously and produces large numbers of flowers in a perfect tropical array of colors. Visitors to Hawaii have become knowledgeable and sophisticated therefore this name has fallen from use. Many flowers are used for lei making today.