By Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
While the sea of glowing red lanterns, drums, dragon dances, and red envelopes are some of the first images in people’s minds of Lunar New Year, a more understated and humble symbol of the Spring Festival are its celebrated and iconic flowers. It seems like everywhere you go, you’ll find potted plants and blooming branches as festive decor at this time of year. Florists in larger cities have begun carrying specific flowers and potted plants wrapped in red and gold sleeves to symbolize virtues such as good luck, fortune, and prosperity. The variety of flowers out there are outstanding, but there are a few traditional standouts to look out for and a few important things to know when you seek them out.
Some flowers for the new year are specially treated and grown in very controlled environments to make sure they’re at their very best leading up to the festivities. Chrysanthemum or “mums” are a classic and very symbolic flower in China. Though it naturally flowers in autumn, a potted golden Chrysanthemum grown for Chinese New Year symbolizes wealth and abundance.
Often dubbed as the unofficial national flower of China, the peony is the most extravagant and prized flower of them all. There are two main types of peony, the tree peony and the herbaceous bush peony. Natural bloom time is in late spring and early summer, but a blooming tree peony plant commands a very high price during the Spring Festival.
These are popular plants to grow in the garden, but being tricked into blooming outside their regular schedule, these plants may take several years to recover and flower again.
Other flowers are sold as cut branches that have endured the winter’s cold outdoors and can actually be tricked into blooming by putting them in a vase indoors so they open and flower. Plum or apricot blossoms and wintersweet are highly revered for their sweet and powerful scent, but are found in just a handful of gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Plum blossoms signal spring’s early arrival and represent romance, prosperity, and growth.
Quite rare, wintersweet is reminiscent of the common garden shrub Forsythia in appearance until the popcorn kernel-like buds open and emit a most delicious scent. In China, you can basically follow your nose to the sweet scent of these leafless branches sold by the bundle. If you’re lucky to find them, give them a fresh cut at the bottom and place it in regular warm tap water when you bring them home.
The orchid is another poetic symbol of nobility, integrity, and even wealth and fertility. As the second most popular houseplant, a potted orchid is always a grand and honorable gesture when presented during Spring Festival. The most traditional is the wild Cymbidium orchid that flowers in very early spring in the mountains of China and has been revered by scholars and poets for centuries.
The most unusual of the flowers of the Chinese New Year grows and flowers from a bulb grown in water. Like the common “Paperwhite” grown in the west, the Chinese Sacred Lily is actually a distant relative of the daffodil and can be found growing and blooming in shallow bowls of water. It has a rich, sometimes overpowering perfume.
There’s much to celebrate and admire about the symbolic flowers of the Lunar New Year. While their blooms may only last for a few fleeting days, their beauty resonates beyond the festivities and can even grace your gardens if you look for them.
Riz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.