Occasionally a small and comparatively cleared spot appears, with a crowded cluster of graves, with a pawn-shaped stone at the head of each, and the beautiful Frangipani,* the “Temple Flower” of Singhalese Buddhism, but the “Grave Flower” of Malay Mohammedanism, sheds its ethereal fragrance among the tombs. The dead lie lonely in the forest shade, under the feathery palm-fronds, but the living are not far to seek.
Isabella L. Bird
The Golden Chersonese and the way thither
The type used for preparing the Frangipani Absolute is Plumeria alba. This tree grows abundantly in the Bangalore area of the Deccan Plateau in Karnatika State, South India. I spent 6 months a year from 1971-1976 living in this gentle climate, one of the most benign in India. Mild winters, moderate summers and an extended rainy season as the area catches both the east and west monsoon, produce this benign environment. The trees grace the broad avenues of the city(though much has changed since I lived there as Bangalore is now the Silicon Valley of India) The lovely complex aroma contains elements of orange flower, gardenia, and honeysuckle in its rich bouquet producing a wonderful tropical essence. The flower is propeller shaped with a delicate yellow center melting into the creamy white outer petals. The umbel like clusters of flowers at the end of terminal branches open over several weeks and each day the ground is carpeted with fresh flowers which are gathered for preparing the concrete. The man who used to prepare this sublime concrete is named Philip Samuel. For a number of years he dedicated a lot of time and effort to preparing Tuberose, Jasmin sambac, Jasmin grandiflorum, Champaca and Frangipani Concretes and Absolutes. He is, in fact, the person with whom I first collaborated to prepare Pink Lotus Absolute. Now he is no longer extracting these aromatic treasures and is devoting his skill and expertise to preparing botanical extracts. It is from some of his remaining stock of Frangipani Concrete that this small batch of Frangipani Phytonic Extract is prepared.
When I visited Philip in South India, he took me into the surrounding countryside to visit the areas where champaca flowers and frangipani flowers were growing in their wild state for production of the concrete. Deep in the rural countryside we saw many stately trees bedecked with flowers(the first flush of flowers emerge before the leaves) Many of the trees were planted near temples and holy shrines, hence its name, Temple Tree. Later in a number of other localities in India, I saw giant frangipani trees growing in temple compounds, even in the heart of Rajasthan where the climate is much hotter and drier than the Bangalore area. The idea of planting the trees near temples and shrines seemed excellent as the aroma pervaded the entire area creating a contemplative atmosphere as well as providing delicate flowers for offering in the inner sanctuary. Indians have for countless generations found aromatic flowers one of the fittest offerings for worship. The flower is seen as the symbol of the fragile human life out of which should come the fragrance of devotion that allows the soul to merge with the mysterious Essence of all life. In the spiritual symbolism of India the flower has a special significance. The 5 petals are said to be represent five qualities necessary for Psychological Perfection: sincerity, faith, aspiration, devotion and surrender.
Philip had carefully surveyed the entire area surrounding his rural extraction unit for trees which could be harvested by the local people. He informed the local farmers of his need for the flowers. Early in the morning the people living in the vicinity of the trees would spread sheet beneath them and would gently shake the limbs so that the flowers would naturally fall to the ground. The flowers were then transferred to baskets and conveyed bus, bicycle, or foot to the distillery. The concrete serving as the base for the Phytonic Absolute was then prepared from the wild grown flowers. I hope that each one of you will have the opportunity to experience some of this lovely essence. I have only 18 ounces which is the entire amount available from the person doing the phytonic extraction in UK.
The frangipani (Plumeria rubra) is native to Mexico where it has been cultivated for several thousand years. The Mayans revered this fragrant tree for it was created by K'akoch, the father of the gods. From the flowers of the bak nikte' were born the children of the supreme creator; these were the gods who watched over the Earth and the affairs of humanity. After the Spanish conquest, the Mayans added a son of the bak nikte' --Hesuklistos (Jesus Christ), the god of foreigners. The Aztecs so admired the cacaloxochilt that it was punishable by death for a common person to pick or even stop to smell the flowers.
Plumerias are now found around the world in the tropics. They are used as offerings in Buddhist temples, planted in cemeteries to honor the dead, used medicinally by the Chinese, and strung to make leis for greeting visitors to Pacific islands. They have been the inspiration for legends of lost loves and tales of dashing princes. To smell a plumeria is to understand why.
(Information is provided for cultural interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease)
Plumeria (common name: Frangipani) is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical America. The genus consist of mainly deciduous shrubs and trees. P. rubra (Common Frangipani, Red Frangipani), native to Central America, Mexico and Venezuela, produces flowers ranging from yellow to pink depending on form or cultivar. The genus is also related to the Oleander, Nerium oleander, both are known to possess poisonous milky sap, rather similar to that of Euphorbia. The name of the genus is actually derived from a seventeenth-century French botanist who traveled to the new world documenting many plant and animal species Charles Plumier (the original spelling of the genus was Plumiera). The common name may vary from place to place, for example, the name is Kembang Kamboja in Indonesia, "Temple Tree" or "Champa" in India, "Champa" in Laos, and "Dead Man's fingers" in Australia. The Australian name is, perhaps, taken from its thin, finger-like, leafless branches.
When treating friends from far away, the warm-hearted Dai folks in Xishuangbanna often serve a special dish on the dining table: they would pick up some white flower petals from small trees around their bamboo buildings, wash them, concoct the petals with eggs and fry the mixture in a pot; after assorting the fried stuff into delicate patterns, they would ask the guests to have a taste of the delicacy (Picture 7.01-07 a delicacy cooked with Frangipani). Since the dainty dish appears noble, elegant, and beautiful and looks like unique artworks, the guests often feel it’s a reckless waste of food before trying.
After exchange of a few words, the guests get to know that this dish is cooked out of frangipani – a kind of defoliate arbor of the nerium indicum family; and the flower gets its name, frangipani, which means the egg flower, because it has white and clean flower petals as well as whitish yellow eyes that look like a yolk being enwrapped in egg whites. The bloom season of the elegant and dignified frangipani is from April to May each year, and the flowers are sweet and refreshing; the five pieces of flower petals laps on one another like wheels, which quite resemble the paper winnowers made by children. Besides the white fangipani, there are also red and yellow frangipanis; essences can be extracted from all frangipanis for the production of high-rank cosmetics, fancy soaps, and additives of foodstuffs. The essences are sold at very high prices; therefore, the frangipani trees have great potentials for commercial development. The frangipani flowers can also be made into teas after being sun-dried, which is normally called the frangipani tea; and the tea has effects of curing fever, wiping out diarrhea, cleaning the lungs and detoxification.
The local folks of Xishuangbanna believe in Buddhism and almost all Dai villages and blockaded villages have Buddhist temples. Frangipani is listed as one of the “five trees and six flowers ” to be planted in the temples; therefore, we can find widespread planting of frangipani in every part of Xishuangbanna. In the tropical tourism sanctum, Hawaii, the local folks often pick up the flowers of frangipani and piece them into garlands, and they would put the garland decoration around their necks as a decoration on festivals; therefore, frangipani is also the symbol of festivals in Hawaii. Frangipani is quite popular in the Laos, and people of the Laos choose it to be their national flower and pay a special homage to it.
Frangipani trees are good-looking. Their caudexes have many branches, which are grotesque in shapes and varied in forms; their leaves look like loquats, and after the leaves fall in winter, they will leave some semicircular traces on the branches, which look like specks grown on buckhorns; so, to some extent, we must say that frangipani is the first choice arbor for forestation of gardens, decoration of courtyards, and for potted planting in the tropical regions. The wood of the frangipani tree is white, light and soft, and can be used for the manufacturing of musical instrument, tableware and furniture.
We visited yesterday a Malay kampong called Mambu, in order to pay an unceremonious visit to the Datu Bandar, the Rajah second in rank to the reigning prince. His house, with three others, a godown on very high stilts, and a mound of graves whitened by the petals of the Frangipani, with a great many cocoa-nut and other trees, was surrounded, as Malay dwellings often are, by a high fence, within which was another inclosing a neat, sanded level, under cocoa-palms, on which his “private residence” and those of his wives stand.
Isabella L. Bird
The Golden Chersonese and the way thither