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The Plumeria That Lives On

By Jessica Ullyott

A cluster of plumeria flowers. The flowers have 5 petals which are bright pink, with orange bases.

A plant possessing all the qualities of tropical romance, peace and beauty makes a 2,500 mile journey across the Pacific Ocean. In the summer of 1981, my in-laws were celebrating their honeymoon on The Big Island of Hawaii. To commemorate these happy memories they brought back a souvenir. A cutting of a plumeria plant they bought at a shop. They would go on to plant this small cutting in the backyard of their first house and over time it grew to an enormous tree. Wherever they moved, they would take cuttings from the original and plant it at their new home until eventually they gave my husband and me a cutting to plant at our first home.

I was never someone who was very fond of plumerias, but soon began to hear about groups of enthusiasts who share a deep love for them such as the Southern California Plumeria Society. During my first year as a plumeria parent, I thought I had killed it because all the leaves had fallen off. I quickly started asking questions to my newfound community, who calmly explained to me that this was a natural process during the winter months and in the spring I was happy to see new green sprouts popping out of the seemingly dead branches and brilliant pink flowers following a few months later. I was also surprised to find out that they are native to Central and South America. Because they are such robust plants, they thrive in many environments including tropical Hawaii.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law suffered a life-threatening stroke on Memorial Day and was airlifted to a hospital for an emergency surgery. Though she survived, she suffered severe brain damage and is struggling to adjust to her new normal. Right now my plumeria is blooming with lovely flowers that are attracting every type of pollinator and filling my yard with life. I have always loved to tell this story of a plant that has represented such a beautiful love story, though now it also reminds me of times shared with a very special person—a woman who raised my amazing husband, loved my children and continues to fight through a difficult time. This plant will endure and continue to tell our story into the future.

Jessica Ullyott is a wife and mother of two currently residing in San Diego, California. She is also a graduate student studying biology at Miami University in Ohio in partnership with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.


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