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Plumeria or Lei Flowers Apocynaceae

FAMILY: APOCYNACEAE (Dogbane or Periwinkle Family)

The dogbane family is a study in contrasts. Many of its approximately 1,000 species of trees, shrubs, vines, and plants are known for their lovely flowers as well as their often poisonous milky sap. More than one Southern California couple has happily settled into a house landscaped with beautiful oleander shrubs until baby arrived. As soon as baby began toddling, they yanked out the beloved shrubs for fear their youngster might eat the poisonous leaves. In fact, several dogbane species are used by South American tribes to poison the tips of their arrows for hunting.

Plumerias follow the dogbane family tradition. Known as lei flowers because their colorful, fragrant blossoms are used to make leis, plumerias have the same poisonous milky sap running through their stems as other family members. Fortunately, mature plumerias are trees rather than shrubs, so the odds of toddlers or pets being able to break off the parts that secrete the toxic milk are low. Also known as frangipani, plumerias are popular in landscaping because of the seemingly endless variety of the color, size, and fragrance of their blossoms.