Plumerias. Some people are afraid of growing them. Some kill them, regularly. But a select few seem to have the “touch”. Like Michael Cerrito, the owner of Plumerias By The Sea. He has hundreds of plumerias in all sizes and colors growing in his yard. He says that although they are native in more tropical climates, Cardiff has near perfect conditions for growing them. They do go dormant in the winters here, dropping their leaves, but then they wake up and make any yard feel like Hawaii.
Michael hasn’t always grown plumerias. He moved to Cardiff over 30 years ago and worked a career in the bio-tech industry. After retiring, he started an abalone business and began growing them his backyard in Cardiff. He was the main supplier for Samurai Japanese Restaurant in Solana Beach. But when another abalone farm started up in Carlsbad, he noticed they had discovered the same nutrient-rich kelp bed that Michael had been using to harvest food for his abalone. He knew then that he had to find something else.
“Men don’t know the names of many flowers but they always know the plumeria flower. Oh, and roses – they know roses too.”
In 2000, he planted some plumeria cuttings and, as he says, “quickly became addicted”. Five years later he was selling plants and Plumerias By The Sea was born.
Today he has over 300 plumerias on his Cardiff property, from 1-gallon cuttings to 24-inch boxes – all are from cuttings he has collected in Hawaii, Florida, and Indonesia. Each plant is meticulously tagged with its cultivar name, all of which are recognized by the Southern California Plumeria Society.
He doesn’t sell his plants until they are fully grown into 5 or 7-gallon containers. His best-formed specimens are transferred into 24-inch boxes, these are truly rare specimens and are his main sales focus as he is one of a handful of growers in So. California selling large plumerias.
Currently, his most prized specimen is a burgundy red plumeria called “Hilo Beauty”. It’s about 14 years old and is priced at over $500. His favorite cultivar is “Aztec Gold” because of how well it grows here and its peach fragrance.
Michael says “Celadine” is very popular. It’s the yellow and white plumeria best known as the one used for making Hawaiian leis. Sometimes, when he has an over-abundance of Celadine, he will make leis and sell them to the local florists.
Michael is always looking for unique or unusual varieties. He recently traveled to Thailand and Malaysia on a combined surfing and plumeria trip. He brought back some cuttings of exciting new cultivars that he hopes to have ready for the market in a few years.
His website has photos of all his cultivars, instructions for cultivating cuttings, and a fertilization calendar for mature trees. You can visit it at www.plumeriaspbs.com.
You can contact Michael through his website or chat with him next time you see him surfing his home break, Turtles.