The Plum Blossom: One of China’s National Flowers
Chinese : 桂花 gui hua
English : Osmanthus
Latin : Flos Osmanthi Fragrantis
Cities: Suzhou Hefei Guilin Hangzhou
Three of the four cities that boast sweet osmanthus as their official flower are also some of the biggest tourist destinations in China. Tiny and delicate, they are particularly prominent in Suzhou’s many world-renowned gardens. Similarly, Hangzhou has taken advantage of their autumnal blooming season to feature them during its annual West Lake Osmanthus Festival in September. Yet despite the efforts of these two cities to claim the flower as their own, Guilin, or ‘The Forest of Osmanthus,” as its name means in Chinese, has them both beaten: botanists believe the plant has been in the city for more than 10,000 years, and you can still buy a sweet wine made from the flower in the city today.
Chinese : 梅花 mei hua
English : Plum Blossom
Latin : Prunus Mei
Cities: Nanjing Wuhan
The plum blossom blooms particularly early in the year, giving visitors a chance to see them in full force before these two summer ‘furnaces,’ reach their unbearably hot peaks. In Chinese paintings and literature the flower represents courage, noble thoughts, hope, and strong will. A source of great pride, both cities have plum blossom festivals in late winter displaying not only the flowers, but also calligraphy and paintings that show off the plum blossom’s beauty.
Chinese : 玫瑰 mei gui
English : Rose
Latin : Flos Rosae Rugosae
Cities: Yinchuan Lanzhou Urumqi Shenyang Lhasa
It is not surprising that many of China’s coldest cities have designated the hardy rose as their official flower. People often make the mistake that the cold kills roses, but they can survive temperatures of 40 below. The key is to ensure they remain frozen and do not repeatedly thaw. Roses do well even in the frigid Urumqi winters and have become a major regional export.
Chinese : 茶花 cha hua
English : Camellia
Latin : Camellia Japonica
Ningbo has not been shy in advertising the striking magnificence of its own local botanical. Deep in salmon hues, it can be seen along the roadsides throughout the city together with Ningbo’s official tree, the camphor. Both plants are not only indigenous to the region, but also extremely easy to care for and virtually immune to disease.
English : Clivia
Latin : Clivia
While clivia generally must be grown indoors, it is otherwise highly versatile: it is able to survive drought or excessive watering and is not finicky about light. Jilin has long been known for its excellent clivia and in 1986 an entry from Changchun emerged victorious in a Hong Kong flower competition, cementing its place as a local treasure.
Chinese : 丁香 ding xiang
English : Evergreen Clove
Latin : Syzygium Aromaticum
It may seem odd that Harbin chose a flower less hardy than its inhabitants. However, cloves have served an important role throughout Chinese history. The plant originally came over from Indonesia 2,500 years ago through trade, and legend has it that in order to approach the emperor, you needed first to place several cloves in your mouth to sweeten your breath. They have also been widely used in Chinese medicine to fend off colds and the flu, something people in Harbin know about too well.
Chinese : 月季 yue ji
English : China Rose
Latin : Rosa Chinensis
Cities: Xian Beijing Dalian
The ancestor of many of today’s hybrids, the China Rose is far hardier and more resistant to disease than its modern contemporaries. Its tendency to change color over time, from deeper oranges to pink, often produces vibrant bushes with a multitude of shadings. Sometimes known as ‘perpetual spring,’ it grows quickly, has a long blooming period, and symbolizes peace and friendship.
Chinese : 菊花 ju hua
English : Chrysanthemum
Latin : Flos Chrysanthemi
Cities: Beijing Taiyuan
Since Beijing gets to have two official flowers (the other being the China Rose), it only seems fair that Taiyuan gets to share the chrysanthemum. Dazzling and full of life, its yellows can brighten even the grayest winter days. With more than 2,500 years of history in China, and traditionally symbolizing longevity, happiness, and integrity it was an easy choice for the capital city.
Chinese : 莲花 lian hua
English : Lotus Flower
Latin : Nelumbo Nucifera Gaertn
Lotus grows in muddy waters and its dormant winter state often makes it appear drab or even dead. However, in the spring few things can compare with the overwhelming vibrancy of a blossoming lotus pond. This symbolic rebirth of life from the murky earth has made the lotus an emblem of Buddhism.
Chinese : 云南茶花 yun nan cha hua
English : Yunnan Camellia
Latin : Camellia Reticulat
The capital of the province known internationally for its plant life should have nothing less than its own unique official flower. While similar to that of Chongqing and Qingdao, Yunnan’s camellia differs in its ability to grow up to 20 meters high in loosely branched trees. This particularly rare species, which primarily grows in the region, tends to be less hardy and needs more sunlight than its more common counterparts.
Chinese : 山茶花 shan cha hua
English : Camellia
Latin : Camellia
Cities: Chongqing Qingdao
Several cities across China have adopted the camellia, with its long and poetic presence in Chinese literature. Chongqing has an extensive and celebrated relationship with the flower and it appears in the works of local Song Dynasty poet Su Shi who penned his works nearly a thousand years ago. Currently its bright hues can be found throughout the city, particularly when they are in season during the fall.
Chinese : 芙蓉花 fu rong hua
English : Cotton (Confederate) Rose
Latin : Hibiscus Mutabilis
Although the incorrectly dubbed Confederate Rose (it is a different genus) now flourishes across the American south, it is in fact a Chengdu native. Cotton rose farming is far less prominent than it once was, but it has had a long and rich tradition in the city. Legend has it that Emperor Meng Chang (919-965) ordered the flower to be set atop the entire city wall, giving Chengdu the nickname “The Cotton Rose City.”
Chinese : 杜鹃花 du juan hua
English : Azalea
Latin : Rhododendron Simsii
Azalea shrubs have a bad reputation as difficult to grow. In fact, if planted in acidic soil with good drainage and watered regularly, they are quite simple. Native to Changsha, the government’s plan in the 1980s to line the roadways with them raised its local profile. The fragrant flowers are not only easy on the eyes and nose: they also kill viruses that cause tuberculosis, dysentery and diphtheria.
Chinese : 三角梅 (叶子花)
san jiao mei
(ye zi hua)
English : Bougainvillea
Latin : Bougainvillea
Cities: Xiamen Hainan (Sanya) Shenzhen
Although not indigenous to Xiamen, Shenzhen or Sanya, the Brazilian import has been cross-bred with local plants, and has consequently absorbed some of the local flavor. Fragile in temperament, it can only survive in China’s mildest cities, as the slightest chill can kill them.
Chinese : 茉莉 mo li
English : Arabian Jasmine Flower
Latin : Jasmini Sambac
Typically white or yellow, this small flower, which rarely exceeds 2 or 3 inches, came over from India and is primarily grown in southeastern China. It deals well with extreme heat, but not frost, making it ideal for this temperate city. Jasmine grows quite quickly-typically 1-2 feet annually, allowing it to spread. Fuzhou residents have long enjoyed the dried flowers as a type of local tea.
Chinese : 玉兰 yu lan
English : Magnolia
Latin : Magnolia
Shanghai officials claim that the magnolia represents the pioneering and enterprising spirit of the city that has turned it into an economic powerhouse. The true impetus may lie in its tradition as a symbol for beautiful women in Chinese culture. A less poetic, but perhaps more logical, reason may be that few other spring flowers are indigenous to the region.
Chinese : 洋紫 yang zi
English : Hong Kong Orchid
Latin : Bauhinia Blakeana
Cities: Hong Kong
Named for Sir Henry Blake, a Hong Kong governor near the turn of the 20th century, the city’s botanical symbol is in fact a tree and not an orchid. It can only survive in the warmest areas of the world and has a long blooming season from late winter through mid summer. The Hong Kong Orchid Tree is particularly hard to cultivate as its flowers are sterile and it does not grow from seeds.
Chinese : 木棉花 mu mian hua
English : Kapok
Latin : Ceiba Pentandra
Officials chose the breathtaking kapok to symbolize the liberalness of China’s “City of Flowers.” Typically found in rainforests and other tropical environments, the kapok grows on trees and ranges in color from orange to deep red. Guangzhou’s very warm winters are ideal for such a temperature-sensitive plant.
- Beijing Botanical Garden (www.beijingbg.com)
- Changchun Forest Botanic Garden (长春森林植物园)
- Chengdu: Du Fu Cottage
- Dalian Garden of Ornamental Plants (大连植物园)
- Fuzhou Arboretum (福州