Indian incenses containing Plumeria, known in the West as frangipani, have Champa in their name. Champa incenses contain a semi-liquid resin (“halmaddi”) taken from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree, which gives them their characteristic grey color and damp texture: halmaddi is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture from the air). Nag Champa incense is perhaps the most famous blend in the world, immediately redolent of temples and yoga shalas.
Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers have no nectar, and simply dupe their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar.
Natural plumeria fragrance consists of as many as 60 volatile plant compounds. The white, pink, and yellow cultivars usually contain more scent than the reds or rainbow colored bloom, and give off a deep and resonant honey and vanilla scent.
The interesting thing about frangipani perfume is that it was formulated by an Italian perfumer named Marquis Frangipani in the 16th century before the plant was discovered. Frangipani used his fragrance to scent gloves.
Later, when the plumeria flower was discovered, the scent reminded people of the fragrance of the gloves. They started calling them frangipani flowers.
The genus name, Plumeria, commemorates Charles Plumier, the botanist who actually discovered the tree. He also discovered the begonia, fuscia, lobelia and magnolia.
Frangipani flowers are held sacred in Bali, India and other tropical countries. They are used in religious ceremonies. Frangipani trees are often planted near temples and graves and revered as a “tree of life”, symbolizing the eternal nature of the soul. The frangipani is the national tree of Laos, where it is called dok jampa. Every Buddhist temple in Laos plants them in their courtyards.
In feng shui the frangipani is associated with love.
In India, champa plants are a symbol of immortality because of their ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it they’ve been lifted out of the ground. Champa is often planted near temples and graveyards, where the fresh flowers fall daily upon the tombs. In Hindu culture, the champa flower, or phool, symbolises loyalty. Hindu women put a flower in their hair on their wedding days to show their loyalty to their husbands. Burning nag champa incense is, therefore, a highly sacred affair in India and done for many reasons beyond merely its pleasing smell.
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