Five auspicious plants for the Lunar New Year and Every Day After
Over the years, it has become a tradition to welcome the Lunar New Year with auspicious plants. These plants are cultivated not just for their beauty, but because their fruits or flowers may have a symbolic meaning.
During festive season, the Chinese often use the saying 花开富贵 (huakai fugui), which means a blooming plant brings prosperity and happiness. Thus, many families will welcome the new year with plants in the hopes of having a good start to the year ahead.
Plants, especially flowers, with bright colours like red, green and yellow are preferred, while dark or white-coloured plants, or plants with stunted growth, sharp or drooping appearance are avoided because these are usually associated with grief and pain.
Besides colours, plants with auspicious-sounding names are highly prized. Here are five auspicious plants that are easy to care for and will continue to survive past the festive season:
1. Desert Rose (Adenium obesum and Adenium genus)
Desert Rose is believed to bring wealth to the owner as highlighted in its Chinese name 富贵花 (fuguihua or wealth plant). The swollen basal stem and roots represent fertility and abundance. It is believed that the larger the swollen base, the greater the wealth and abundance. Desert Rose has several cultivars with different coloured flowers. Among the cultivars, those with red and pink flowers are favoured because brightly coloured flowers represent luck and prosperity.
Desert Rose requires little water and full direct sun. It is a great outdoor plant for your porch or corridor to welcome guests visiting your house. To achieve a thick foliage cover, new shoots can be pruned by removing the two smallest leaves at the tip or by trimming an inch from the tip of the stem to encourage multi-branching.
2. Kumquat (Citrus japonica and hybrids)
Just as there is Christmas tree for Christmas, the Chinese have citrus trees for the Lunar New Year, including Mandarin Orange and Kumquat. The significance of Kumquat is a play on word sounds.
The fruiting tree resembles a tree with an abundance of gold coins, hence the word ‘kum’ rhymes with the Cantonese word for gold (金) which symbolise wealth and success, and ‘quat’ rhymes with the Cantonese word for luck (桔). Kumquat are not only good as décor, the fruits can also be harvested for culinary purposes if grown organically.
The Kumquat is a hardy plant which prefers full sun, moderate water and well-drained soil. Prune the fruiting branches and fertilise it fortnightly to encourage repeat fruiting. Good air circulation also helps to minimise attacks by insects. Citrus trees are prone to visitations by the caterpillars of the Common Lime butterfly
3. Jade plant (Crassula ovate)
The Jade plant has fleshy emerald-green oval leaves. Its vibrant colour symbolise continual growth while the shape of its leaves resemble coins and symbolise prosperity and fortune. The plant grows well indoor and will last long if given proper care. It also makes a great gift for friends or housewarming.
The Jade plant is easy to care for with little water requirement. It prefers full-day indirect sun or partial shade, which makes it a good indoor plant. Its leaves become slightly reddish when exposed to high levels of sunlight.
Pruning is required when the crown is heavier than the bottom. It can be easily propagated by stem cuttings. Flowering is believed to be induced by long nights.
4. Pitcher plant (Nepenthes sp.)
The popularity of the Pitcher plant is due to shape of its modified leaves (pitchers), which resemble bags, hence it is named 袋袋平安 (daidai pingan), which means bags that bring wealth and happiness for years to come. The more pitchers a plant has, the more luck and fortune you are likely to accumulate!
Lowland pitcher plants are native to the tropics,hence they will thrive well in Singapore’s climate. Do not fertilise the plant as it may induce the plant not to produce pitchers. Light requirement varies according to species, but they usually range from partial shade to full sun, hence they can be grown both indoor and outdoor. Pitcher plants also need high humidity with good air circulation and moderate water requirement.
5. Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata)
The brightly coloured blossoms of this plant resemble closely a rooster’s cockscomb. Hence the name Cockscomb, or 鸡冠花 in Chinese. 鸡, which means rooster, is considered as an auspicious animal in Chinese culture. The Chinese believe that the rooster has the ability to ward off evil spirits as it crows at the break of dawn.
Furthermore, the word rooster (鸡) rhymes with the word luck (吉) in Chinese, thus making it a traditional favourite for the festive season.
Besides resembling a cockscomb, the blossoms (花) also look like the hats of high-ranking officials (冠) in ancient China. There is a Chinese saying 冠上加冠賞吉, which means continual promotion in ranks. This is a double symbolism of good fortune and achievements which the plant has come to represent.
Cockscomb plants are easy to care for and suitable to grow in Singapore’s tropical climate. The plant thrives well when given full sun condition and moderate water. Well-drained soil is also a key to the vigour of the plant. Since Cockscomb is an annual, seeds can be harvested and new plants grown from them.
For many Chinese, the Lunar New Year is a precursor to the year ahead. Symbols of good luck, such as auspicious plants, are often used to bring about a good start to the year. However, regardless whether they actually bring good fortune, these plants bring colour and life into our homes, setting the mood for the festive season and the rest of the year.
Text by Jessica Teo
All photos from florafaunaweb.nparks.gov.sg, except for the Nepethes by Vicky Lim.
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