Flowers of Bali: The frangipani

Walk through Bali, and you’ll definitely come across these yellow-white flowers growing on trees. Locally known as jepun, the frangipani is Bali’s signature flower. It is often used in offerings, religious ceremonies, or decorations. It smells nice, too and is used in various cosmetic products. That smell of incense you happened to pick up during a morning walk? Probably frangipani.

The frangipani, or Plumeria, is a genus of tropical flowers native to Central America but can be found in many tropical to sub-tropical regions. The flowers are primarily yellow and white, but you can find red-white-yellow varieties in Bali. The red ones are usually more fragrant than the white ones.

Frangipani trees can be found almost everywhere in Bali. They are planted at temples to provide flowers for the priests and people to offer to the gods, at homes and restaurants for added decoration, and even along the sidewalk! Frangipani trees are mostly small, but some are bred to extraordinary heights in Bali. Locals often have a bamboo stick ready nearby the tree for high trees. The tip is cut into a V-shape, and you need to carefully place the end beneath the stalk and twist it so the flower falls. Pick one if you’re tall enough, but be careful of the milky white sap! It stains clothes and irritates the skin.

Frangipanis are planted mainly for their flowers, which are often used in religious ceremonies for prayer and decorating offerings. Their fragrance and beautiful colours make them great candidates for flowers to be offered to the gods. But nowadays, frangipanis have their own place as a commodity. Dried frangipanis can be ground into a fine powder and used to make incense, body lotions, perfumes, and essential oils. Some exporters in Bali also ship dried frangipanis to China, where they are used in herbal tea. Demand for dried frangipanis is rising, so locals have started collecting dried frangipanis from their trees at home and selling them by the kilo. So, when buying incense sticks or aromatherapy oils for gifts, rest assured you’re also helping the Balinese economy!