The embodiment of beauty, flowers are one of the most amazing wonders on this planet. They appear in literature, food, beverages, and decorations that adorn us. There are 10 famous Chinese flowers, each of which symbolizes a spiritual trait or value that is cherished in traditional Chinese culture.
10 famous Chinese flowers
1. Plum blossom
Along with orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemum, plum blossoms are praised as the “Four Men of Noble Character”.
Plum blossoms are depicted everywhere from pottery to wall scrolls because of their scenic properties and symbolic meanings. Plum fruits are a symbol of fertility. The plants themselves are a symbol of perseverance because of how they bloom in the cold winters.
Due to them being the first flowers of the year, they also represent renewal and purity. Due to having five petals, they are also a representation of success and prosperity due to the number being sacred in Chinese culture.
They are often depicted in many forms of art as long extended flowering branches with wildlife around it. Because of how they have perceived as well as their beauty, there are many pieces of art depicting the plants blooming flowers.
The peony is a symbol of prosperity because of the dazzling color, extraordinary size, and round shape of the flower.
The great Chinese poet Li Bai, from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), once compared concubine Yang Yuhuan’s beautiful face to blooming peonies in his famous poem Qing Ping Diao. “Floating clouds remind me of her clothes, and peonies her face,” he wrote.
Flowering in May, peonies’ large petals and strong colors are linked to prosperity and richness in traditional Chinese culture. Thus, it became very popular during the Tang Dynasty, a period of time when Chinese people preferred magnificent and glorious things, such as fat and strong horses and large flowers. In the late Qing Dynasty, the peony was chosen as the national flower.
In many New Year pictures, fairy children always hold peonies that bear people’s wishes for an auspicious and rich new year.
One of the “Four Men of Noble Character”, the chrysanthemum is a symbol of individuality because it blooms in the autumn when most flowers wither.
The chrysanthemum is often associated with the famous poet Tao Yuanming from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420). In his poem Drinking Wine, Tao wrote: “While picking up chrysanthemums beneath the eastern fence, my gaze was leisurely upon the southern mountains”. The piece became one of the most well-known poems, picturing a peaceful and satisfying life dreamed of by many people.
Tao was a recluse who enjoyed the beauty of nature and simple life. The chrysanthemums he referenced came to symbolize humility, rather than seeking fame and wealth.
With its unsophisticated beauty, the chrysanthemum is also a symbol of longevity in Chinese myths and literature.
The lotus flower is an important symbol of pureness in Buddhism, and also traditional Chinese culture. A Song Dynasty scholar, Zhou Dunyi, praised lotus as “unsullied from silt where it comes from, retains demure despite being cleaned by water” in his prose Ai Lian Shuo.
In ancient Chinese literature, the lotus is often connected with women’s noble and pure personalities. In the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber, Qing Wen, an honest and upright maid of protagonist Jia Baoyu, becomes a lotus fairy after passing away.
5. Chinese rose
The Chinese rose is a symbol of vitality because it grows easily and blooms in all seasons.
Bearing a strong resemblance to other roses, yet with fewer thorns and larger petals, the plant originates from China, hence the name “Chinese rose”.
“Bloom or fade, the flower never cares about the arrival of spring; Best peonies only appear in late spring and early summer, yet Chinese roses enjoy the four seasons with unceasing beauty,” poet Su Shi from the Song Dynasties (AD 960-1279) described the flower in a verse.
Chinese people started to grow the rose about 2,000 years ago. In the Han Dynasty (BC 206 to AD 220), Chinese roses were widely grown in royal gardens. And in the Tang Dynasty, the flowers found their way into most regions along the Yangtze River.
Often appearing in old Chinese poems and stories, azalea, or du juan, is the favorite flower of poet Bai Juyi from the Tang Dynasty. He not only praised the flowers in his poems but tried to grow azaleas.
“Once grown on hills, now blooming in gardens…send a message to God and let azalea be the king of flowers,” Bai wrote in his poem Azalea Twelve Tunes.
In Chinese mythology, a melancholy bird named Du Juan bleated day and night until it spat blood, which painted all the flowers on the hill red. The flowers were named after the miserable bird.
The camellia is an auspicious symbol. It is said in the Buddhist tradition to be one of the four flowers growing in heaven.
The camellia has been planted in China as early as the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280).
There is a poem Ode to Camellia, written by a lady called “Madame Huarui”, that describes the camellia as “Blooming on the hills, like burning sunset glow and floating pink clouds…the scenery is more beautiful than hundreds of flowers blooming in heaven.”
One of the “Four Men of Noble Character”, the orchid is a symbol of virtue. Orchids are characterized by a delicate fragrance, but they frequently grow in the wilderness and are not known to the world, just like those who are virtuous are frequently not known by others unless one goes near them.
As one of the “Four Men of Noble Character” in Chinese culture, the orchid is better known for its delicate fragrance. And its Chinese character “lan” has been widely used in women’s names for thousands of years.
Ancient Chinese called eternal friendship “lan jiao,” or companionship as noble as the orchid, and beautiful prose and poems “lan zhang,” or words as graceful as the orchid. People started to grow the flower in China about 2,000 years ago. After the Wei and Jin dynasties (A.D. 220-420), orchids were mainly used to decorate gardens.
The first monograph on orchids in the world, Jin Zhang Lan Pu, was written by Zhao Shigeng from the Song Dynasty. With a total of three volumes, the book recorded about 30 kinds of orchids and their living habits.
9. Sweet osmanthus
Chinese mythology held that a sweet osmanthus grows on the moon and was endlessly cut by Wu Gang, a Taoist practitioner who violated Taoist cultivation rules. This flower has long been favored by the Chinese because of its fragrance and cultural association.
In her poem, Li Qingzhao from the Song Dynasty described osmanthus as “light yellow, with a soft body, only leave a fragrant smell behind. light yellow, with a delicate figure, that only leaves fragrance behind; No need for bright greens and reds, the osmanthus is a flower destined to shine.”
Planting sweet-scented osmanthus in China has a history of more than 2,500 years. Often blooming in August, the plant is also connected with the Mid-Autumn Festival due to the fairy tale about a man named Wu Gang. Wu is ordered to cut down a large and strong osmanthus tree on the moon every day, yet the charming tree never falls and has fragrant flowers each autumn. Wu is only allowed to have a rest for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The narcissus or daffodil with its green, white, and yellow colors is often grown in water and bears a kind of heavenly beauty, thus, it always finds its way into mythologies from different cultures.
In Greek mythology, the flower was named after a hunter Narcissus, who was well-known for his beauty. And in Chinese folklore, narcissus is the embodiment of Emperor Yao’s two daughters, E Huang and Nv Ying.
Zhu Xi, a leading Confucian scholar of the School of Principle from the Song Dynasty, described narcissus as “a fairy with yellow hats and green sleeves.” According to historical records, the original narcissus was imported from Italy in the Tang Dynasty.
Chinese people cultivated better flowers after centuries of breeding. In China, narcissus can be sculptured into various kinds of bonsais. The flowers are often used as a decoration during the Chinese New Year.