Plumeria lovers across the nation helped coastal gardeners after freeze
Across the Texas Gulf Coast, home gardeners lamented the serious condition of plants hurt by the February freeze. Much-loved plumerias were hit particularly hard.
Plumerias, also known as frangipanis or flora de Mayo, are tropical plants with candelabra branches and produce an abundance of blooms and fragrances in a variety of colors and scents. But they are one of the most tropical species, and therefore very susceptible to cold and freezes, said Loretta Osteen, a Galveston County Master Gardener and plumeria expert.
Osteen, who has been growing plumerias at her Tiki Island home for the past 20 years, first saw this plant on a family visit to Hawaii, where they grow in abundance and usually are the flower of choice for leis. When Osteen returned to Texas, she researched the plant and found there was a Houston-based organization, the Plumeria Society of America, where she could learn more.
Since then, she has focused on growing, propagating, sharing and lecturing about plumerias with anyone who wants to listen. And the plumeria population on the Gulf Coast has exploded in popularity.
Then came the freeze of 2021, made more problematic by power outages that lasted for days on the upper Texas coast.
“This was bad — really, really bad,” she said. “And it was double bad because not only did we have record-low temperatures, we had no electricity or heat. So, if we brought plants into the house, they still froze.”
When Osteen saw the forecasts in February for freezing temperatures, she immediately moved 75 potted plants indoors and then trimmed the limbs of larger plumerias that were in the ground, she said.
“I knew leaving anything outside would die, so I brought them in,” she said. “I cut branches off the big trees and put them in 5-gallon buckets. I must have had 15 branches in each of the six buckets. Since the trees were dormant, it was the right time to cut them.”
Without heat in her home, about 15 percent of her cuttings and plants died. But the others survived and she was ready to start over again, she said.
Getting them started as new plants was easy, she said.
She advises to let the cuttings heal, burying them only about 3 to 4 inches and give them a little water. Don’t water them again for several weeks because without any roots, the cuttings will rot, she said. The cuttings will develop root systems in the soil.
Many coastal residents wrapped their outdoor plants and were optimistic they would survive. But several months later, these plants started turning color, getting soft and finally dying.
“They tried so hard to survive, but the freeze damage was just too much and too extreme,” Osteen said.
In normal times, just covering the plant and roots with blankets or foam pipe insulation would protect the plumerias. But the 2021 freeze wasn’t normal.
And the pain of local plumeria fans was heard nationwide. Ray Allison, president of the Plumeria Society of America, said aficionados nationwide came to the rescue with cuttings, seeds and donations.
“We weren’t even out of the freeze when people started contacting us wanting to help rebuild our plumeria gardens,” Allison said. “Packages started arriving with cuttings and we advertised on our Facebook page that they were available to anyone who lost plants. The donations came from Southern California, Hawaii, Florida and Gonzales, Louisiana. We received over 2,000 plant cuttings.”
The Plumeria Society of America is the sole registrar for plumeria species, which are listed with the Royal Horticultural Society in London. There are several regional organizations. Allison’s group has registered 504 unique plumeria plants since 1979. It has given away more than 16,000 seeds in the past three years.
Tropical plumerias appear to be very popular, he said.
“I knew this before: People are drunk with lust over plumerias,” he said. “This year, it brought out a lot of people who are in love with the plant and we are so appreciative.”