This week’s flowers may most likely transport you to the unending, scorching sand dunes of the Nile River that snakes its’ watery river veins around Egypt, the Land of Pharaoh Kings & mystical Pyramids. Meet Agapanthus, known as African Lily in the UK or generally, Lily of the Nile.
If you care to search for the story of Lily of the Nile online, you’ll find that an author by the name of Stephanie Dray has titled one of her historical fiction books as ‘Lily of the Nile’. Her story is back-dropped against the majestic Roman Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra had lived in those days until their tragic deaths at the Battle of Actium. Ah yes, that infamous Cleopatra who seduced 2 powerful Roman leaders, bore children to both men, and committed suicide when her husband’s and her armies fell to Octavian’s might. That battle saw Octavian Caesar consolidating his rule over Rome and all other Roman conquests, which included Egypt. Princess Selene, one of the children born to Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, was taken prisoner to the Roman capital who jeered at her royal lineage. At the mercy of her captors, Selene a.k.a. Lily of the Nile must find a way to answer her true calling while surviving the court intrigue of Roman politics. Selene was a mysterious figure in history that scarcely had any surviving records about her, save for a few clues hinted by revered historians Plutarch, Suetonius and Dio Cassius. Did Selene manage to obtain freedom from her oppressors eventually? Did she rule Egypt as well as her famous parents did? You’re welcome to read the book (and historians’ commentaries) to find out ;)
While the book is a fictitious account of a historical figure, but still, one doesn’t easily separate Agapanthus’ connection to its African heritage. To be more precise, majority of the Agapanthus species are native to Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique). There are some Agapanthus species that are cultivated and naturalized in Australia, Great Britain, Mexico, Ethiopia and Jamaica, to name a few. But if an Agapanthus could speak to you in anyway about their true birthplace, they’ll probably say ‘Africa’ is where they came from first.
How about other facts about this desert flower of the Nile?
Disclaimer ahead: this week’s flowers and Bersih 4.0 Rally are NOT related to each other.
But perhaps as a humble gesture of compassion for another human being, you’re more than welcome to buy some sunflowers from me (;p) and pass on to some of the policemen who are doing their jobs, to Bersih supporters as your expression of admiration for their courage, to traders who still have their businesses to run, or to anyone who simply needs cheering up after a lousy day.
Anyhow, yes, this week’s flower is Sunflower. However, it is not the typical generic sunflower you are used to seeing in pictures. This week’s flower is from Holland, which has finer petals (picture as below)
There are 2 interesting versions to 1 story about 1 person where this sunflower origin came from. One story is a romantic fairy tale you would tell to kids; the other has a tragic undercurrent to the tale that only adults would understand.
As the romantic myth goes, once upon a time in ancient Greece, there was a sea nymph named Clytie (pictures as below) who lived at the bottom of the deep sea. She usually wore a beautiful green gown woven of seaweed. Her hair was long and golden that floated gracefully about her wherever she swam.
One day a mermaid came and sang her a song about a golden light above the water. Clytie became curious and wanted to see what this’ golden light’ look like!
She swam to the surface, climbed ashore and saw the ‘golden light’ described in the song, which turned out to be the sun! As a nymph who lived in the deep sea all her life, the sun was a marvellous wonder unlike anything she had encountered.
She stood happily gazing at the sun all day. When she had decided at last to turn to the seawater again, she realised that she wasn’t a nymph anymore. Her long golden hair had become large yellow petals; her green gown had become broad green leaves. Her tiny feet had grown tree roots. Clytie had become a sunflower, a small image of the sun she fell in love with.
That is generally how the fairy tale goes. Now what other people don’t know about this tale is that the ending has a sour taste, sadly. You see, Clytie has a sister named Leucothea. Every morning, before dawn, all nymphs - be it sea nymphs or river nymphs - would come up from the depths of their watery worlds and dance among the water-plants on its shores. Before the rise of dawn, all nymphs must plunge back into the water and never be seen by humans. That was the law of nature for them.
Clytie and Leucothea decided to break this law one day. When the sun began to show above the hills, all the other nymphs rushed back to their water, but not these two. The sisters sat on the bank of their river, and watched for the arrival of the sun-god Apollo. They were not disappointed when they saw him coming in full splendour of glory. Apollo drove his horses across the skies in his golden chariot with his jewelled crown on his head, and kept a firm rein on the four magnificent fire-breathing horses.
It was hard not to be dazzled by such a sight like that. And the best part was, Apollo saw the sisters and smiled upon them warmly. Who doesn’t get excited for getting noticed by a glorious god? The sisters could not think of anything else but the shining Apollo after that. They became obsessed with that fiery image stuck in their heads.
One day, the nymph sisters quarrelled over a man named Helios, who used to love Clytie but then gradually lusted after Leucothea. The jilted Clytie told King Oceanus about the Helios-Leucothea affair and how her sister broke the law of the water-nymphs. (Clytie conveniently left herself out of that episode she had originally conspired with her sister.) As a result, King Oceanus angrily threw Leucothea into a dark cave to die as punishment for her sins. Clytie had supposed that she has the chance to win Helios back now that her competition was out of sight. But unfortunately for her, Helios found out about this treachery and hardened his heart towards her. Besides that, news travelled far and fast in the realm of the gods. Apollo eventually found of about this cruel incident too.
So, Clytie lost her lover and may have tried to cheer herself up by going ashore every morning to do what she was obsessed with before - to catch the sun, where the splendid Apollo would ride the skies. But Apollo would not smile upon her, and never did again whenever he passed by Clytie. Clytie refused to go back to her watery world and stubbornly stood watching for Apollo for 9 days and nights in a row. She grew fragilely thin with each passing day, waiting in vain for an upward twitch of a smile on Apollo’s face. In those 9 days, she was transformed slowly into a sunflower, a flower that still grows, in wet, sandy places, and still turns slowly on its stem, always keeping its face toward the sun as it travels the sky.
Many years ago, my cousin told me an odd advice my aunt had passed on to him. That time, he was about 13 going on 14 soon. This is the age where sooner or later, hormones are discovered and for guys, the allure of girls. She said, “You know, sonny, some girls are like my favourite flowers - the anthuriums. Like that flower, some girls are showy, bold, and that is what makes them beautiful in a way. Their outstanding beauty shines brighter than those shy wallflowers. As beautiful as these flowers are, once you handle this flower wrongly, you get poisoned.”
“Poisoned? Anthuriums are poisonous?”
“Yes. Their sap irritates your eyes and skin once you extract the sap out of the flower. Anthuriums are dangerous because of the presence of a poisonous substance (calcium oxalate crystals) that can produce sores and numbing on ingestion.”
“If you knew they are that dangerous, why do you still cultivate that plant, aunty? Why do you still love that plant of all other – I don’t know – ‘safer’ plants?”
“One day, sonny, you’ll understand that attraction to something or someone cannot be explained. Perhaps you can choose who to love in the end, but attraction… you cannot choose who you get attracted to. Attraction doesn’t follow logic or reason. Attraction is something hard to fight off within for long. In my case, despite knowing its potential toxin, I’m attracted to Anthuriums nonetheless. So long I don’t touch the sap for whatever reason, Anthuriums will serve you well a fine flower for any vase in any room, sonny. Treat someone or something nicely. Don’t go looking for wrong buttons to push at too often. Then, that person or thing will reward you well in return.”
As my cousin and I grew up over the years, we both learnt that Anthuriums has other redeeming factors to make up for its dark secret. Such as the fact that Anthuriums make a wonderful indoor house plant that purifies the air around it. Their large, exotic dark leaves absorb ammonia, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene, so they make a thoughtful present for a workplace, especially around copiers, printers or adhesives. Not bad, eh?
A native to tropical America, Anthurium is a genus of more than 800 species found in the New World tropics from Mexico to northern Argentina and Uruguay. Anthurium’s common English names would be Painted Tongue, Flamingo Flower (Flamingo Lily) or Tail Flower, something my aunt never mentioned or alternatively refer to her Anthuriums. (She supposed ‘Anthurium’ is exotic enough a name.) Even though her Anthuriums are mostly bright red in nature, there are other Anthuriums that have leafy bracts which may be white, yellow, red, pink, orange, purple, maroon-brown or green, as per picture below:
Should any of you consider about how to cultivate this plant, my aunt have these tips as below:
This week’s flower will be much easier to remember when you think of Shrek (year 2001 movie). Yes, the big green ogre that lived in a fairy-tale land filled with wise-cracking cynics, kind-hearted but clumsy clowns or bimbo fairy tale characters.
In the 1st Shrek movie, particularly, there was a hilarious scene where Shrek & Donkey were on their way to retrieve Princess Fiona from her castle imprisonment. Their script was as below:
Shrek: For your information, there's a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example... uh... ogres are... like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes... No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave 'em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin' little white hairs...
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers... You get it? We both have layers.
While Shrek was referring to everyone having hidden characteristics that defined the real unique individual we are inside, let’s reveal the real identity of Allium. Allium is related to Onion, in fact. The common name for Allium is called...yeah, you guessed it...onion. Ornamental Onion, to be exact. ;)
Just like Shrek and Donkey have many layers of characteristics to them, Allium/Onion Flower at first hearing is unappealing. It doesn’t help that our minds will automatically remember our own unpleasant experiences with onions – the stinging tears onions made you cry as you kept mincing away that wretched vegetable, or the funnier time you tried wearing swimming goggles to reduce the teary effect that onions emit. That is what most of us are familiar with about onions.
But what if I tell you that Onion flowers are flamboyantly beautiful? Especially the popular Purple species? ‘Peel away the layers’ & you’ll find a unique beauty you thought you’ll never see in something considered ugly. Here's how the onion flowers really look like:
Yes, it sounds bizarre but onions can flower. And some species can grow really tall as much as 150cm! Despite the onion bulbs’ infamous pungent odor, the flowers don't smell so strongly like garlic or onion to our regular human noses. But to the deer and rats/rodents, their noses are much more sensitive. They don't like these flowers and would keep away instead. Here are other facts about the Onion flower you probably didn’t know:
There, what did I tell you about ‘layers’ and ‘beauty’? Care to give ‘ugly’ a chance to reveal her real beauty? =)
CLICK HERE to know more about BloomThis flowers.
I don’t need to further explain how universal Roses are to romance, love, happiness. People have included roses in their song lyrics, literature novels, science innovation, healing purposes and paintings since forever anyway.
Talking about romantic love, roses are synonym to weddings. I can’t remember the last wedding I had attended where the wedding reception venue doesn’t have roses somewhere draping the tables, floral stands, bridesmaids’ hair or marriage ritual where flower petals are thrown at the couple as a form of blessing. If there are weddings without roses, it could be one of these 3 reasons:
True story found online: A priest said ‘no flower petals are allowed in church.’ A mother posted this dilemma up in year 2010, and was asking readers other alternatives to go about it. Here’s the screenshot:
Interestingly, some responses this post had received were running along the lines as below:
Keep in mind that this post was 6 years ago. I think humanity’s faith in flower petals is stronger nowadays. Couples still want the romantic symbol showering on them, and I’ve not heard of tripping accidents involving real or fake petals so far.
Just so you know, in case you’re wondering why the roses used in weddings are so delicate in colour, almost porcelain-looking that it gives the whole wedding place a very dreamy ambience. And that they’re mostly in light candy-pink colour. That is because the species used is India’s Pink Avalanche Roses or more commonly known as Sweet Avalanche Roses. Here’s how they look like:
From the look of this flower, you just know that when this Rose blooms, it will bloom open so… I don’t think ‘very beautiful’ is enough to describe its perfect beauty, really. Initially in its bud form, it is pale pink or white in colour all-round with a hint of green hue to it. As it blooms, the green colour fades away, and become pinker as it opens. Every rose colour has a slightly different floral meaning behind it. For this species, Sweet Avalanche means Grace, Friendship, Joy, Perfect Happiness, ‘Please Believe Me’ message implication, Gratitude, Gentility and Love at First Sight. Wherever this bouquet of roses is placed, it will become a natural focal point of attention in any room. And for some reason, whether you are a romantic in nature or not, these roses will find its way to your heart. For one good long moment, you’ll feel everything in this world is going to be alright, no matter how Armageddon-ish your day has been. So, care for some ‘perfect happiness’ now? =)
Just a short throwback to yesteryears… my mum used to put turmeric spice into her curry dishes. She’s still alive today but doesn’t cook as much as she used to. I remembered I was a 9-year-old girl who was curious about everything she sees and touches. So, one day, I saw the yellow-coloured powder stuff while my mum was making her curry chicken. That was the first time I got to know that Turmeric yellow stain can stay on your fingers and nails stubbornly for days. Once, a school teacher had thought that I was having some kind of skin disease because of my unnaturally yellow-looking fingers :D
As time goes by, I learnt that turmeric is a healthy antioxidant our bodies need once a while (too much of it will cause inflammation & stomach upset problems). Recently, I just realized turmeric is a cousin related to the ginger family. Last week we talked about a ginger flower meant purely for floral arrangement, and its sister ginger meant for cooking up Asian dishes. Now, let’s talk another kind of ginger cousin – turmeric, to be exact.
This ginger or turmeric flower I’ll be talking about is Curcuma. Here’s how some of the Curcuma species look like around the world:
Pretty looking, isn’t it? For a spice plant, eh? Here’s 10 interesting facts about this ginger cousin:
Let say one day, you fell sick. And the kind of sickness you get is cold, cough, sinus, etc. You visit a clinic doctor and he will prescribe you antibiotics. There’s nothing wrong to take that medicine to cure your flu symptoms. After all, that sickness would annoy you for days on end if you don’t do something about it.
Some of you may have thought, “Ummm, I have been taking antibiotics every time I’m sick. Won’t there be a time my body is unable to take on more antibiotics?” So, for a change, you let your body heal on its own through natural remedies. Apart from keeping a well-balanced lifestyle, you start looking for alternatives that heal common illnesses naturally. Guess what? Meet Ginger, one of the most famous botanical plants used for centuries for food consumption & medicinal purposes.
While the focus today is about the ginger flower plant as an ornamental plant, let’s admit it: we all instinctively remember ginger as a food ingredient. You remember ginger as something inside the food you eat. You saw Mum chopping or grating ginger into her frying wok. No doubt that ginger flower is one of the most in-demand flowers in the world for flower arrangement, but it is harder to ignore the greater purpose of ginger that we humans have been using it since ancient times.
Some other interesting stuff about ginger:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.
Extract from ‘The Lily’ poem by English poet William Blake, 1757 – 1827
Confession time: During high school and college days, I have composed poems. Don’t laugh - you may have done it too before, perhaps you don’t remember it now ;) Whether it was for official assignments, to impress secret crushes, or simply fill up time during a boring lecture – yep, we have penned out some corny words on scraps of paper. In poetry, we often try to rhyme beauty with something comparable, such as compare someone’s beauty & personality to pretty flowers, constellation stars or noble animals.
However, I admit that lilies are rarely thought of. Recently, I only realized that lilies have evoked men to compose poems about its pure beauty since ages past. The above mentioned poem is one of the most popular poems remaining today on just the (white) lily flower. In plainer English, the poet was referring to the Lily as an epitome of grace that has all the love to give to the world. No thorns (like those on a rose stalk) or flaws in this world could mar a lily’s beauty because the lily’s beauty will persevere and shine through in the end. So, to any male readers out there reading my article now: if you are considering giving your girlfriend a change from the usual roses, give lilies a try one day. Undoubtedly, roses are the traditional symbol of love to the receiver, but lilies are good alternatives too – and, lilies last longer :)
There are generally 5 types of Lilies: the Asiatic Lilies, Tiger Lilies, Oriental Lilies, Orienpet Lilies (Oriental + Trumpet Hybrid) & Double Oriental. What you’ll be getting this week is the usual ‘star attraction’ of them all - the pink Oriental Stargazer lilies from Holland.
A typical Stargazer has a sprinkle of dark freckles on its petals. It is usually dark pink in the middle which gradually fades to white at the edges. A good arrangement with lily flowers has a vase lifespan of 2 weeks or more, provided you change the water every few days and give a small dose of cut-flower food to the water. Once this lily blooms, it commands your attention effortlessly. It will draw you in further when you take a whiff of their natural fragrance.
To accentuate the lilies’ beauty, have some waxflowers alongside it. Or what florists would refer them to as Geraldton Wax. Waxflowers are commonly found in South-Western Australia, belong to the myrtle family and looked similar to tea trees’ flowers. Geraldton Wax is relatively hardy and can be cultivated in higher humidity areas, such as Sydney. Chances are high that Geraldton Wax can survive Malaysia’s infamous humid weather. It is very drought-tolerant and has aromatic leaves, despite its petals having a waxy feel to it (hence their name ‘waxflowers’). Their common name may sound unromantic, but their floral meaning is highly regarded, really! Waxflower symbolizes riches and enduring wealth. Their long lasting blooms make them a symbol of lasting success in wealth and relationship matters.
So, put in the symbol of graceful beauty in the same vase with the symbol of riches, wealth and success… voilà! Its allure may leave you tongue-tied, so that is where you let your phone do the job of snapping photos away at the too-beautiful-for-words floral arrangement ;)
Short quiz here: name as many as you can the types of vegetable greens are out there. (No, general name ‘salad’ doesn’t count.)
If you cooked healthy greens often for your meals, you would have come across terms such as ‘cabbage’, ‘kale’, ‘spinach’, ‘broccoli’ and ‘cauliflower’. But today, I won’t be lecturing about how healthy green is for you. I’m going to talk about a vegetable that is not for eating. And ‘cabbage’, ‘kale’ ‘spinach’, ‘broccoli’ and ‘cauliflower’ etc. have a common link to this one vegetable that flowers. Everybody, please meet the Brassica family (picture of it as below). The one you’ll like to pay more attention to is Mini Brassica.
Let’s see what Brassica is about. Brassica is the Latin name for a genus of plants in the mustard family. Translate it to non-Latin would be Kale, Cabbage or Mustard. The Brassica also consist in its family the flowering kind of vegetables such as Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Collards, Rutabaga and Turnip. (Ahh, see the connection link now?). Here’s something new to learn today: there are some cabbages meant for meal consumption, but some cabbages like the Mini Brassica is grown specifically as an ornamental plant. Variety of the Brassica species usually comes in arresting green, white and purple hues, making Mini Brassica quite a colourful bunch of flowers!
On and off, you’ll perhaps hear from florists spouting names such as Brassica Green, Brassica Red Crane, Brassica White & White Crane, Kale Sunset and Kale Tokyo. However, in case some florists are unfamiliar with the alien word ‘Brassica’, just show the picture to them or ask for ‘Kale’ / ‘Cabbage flowers’. Most Brassicas start blossoming in autumn and will be at its peak when winter is near.
Unlike other popular flowers, Brassicas are sturdier, less fragile and longer-lasting due to their waxy but tough stems and leaves. Brassicas has the ability to remain fresh as cut ‘flowers’ for a solid week; with floral preservatives, could possibly last longer than that.
“Wait a minute… Vegetable? Cabbage as a pretty plant for a house décor?” It seems hard to digest that thought at first, but look again. Brassicas aren’t that horrible-looking, and could compliment your room’s colour schemes like any other flowers. Some florists have considered them as one of the prettiest and are favoured widely by many flower enthusiasts. So, why not give it a benefit of a doubt? Consider them an alternative when you do the next floral arrangement ;)
Hey! *Wink, nudge* I give you a secret how to open your brassica to make it more like a full-bloom flower here:
PS: The woody stems from these cabbage flowers can dirty the water very quickly. So, change water regularly in order to eliminate potential cabbage smell from water.
Ahhh, we’re back again to Peonies. Peony has so much history that each story about it is too interesting to ignore. Aside from Greeks and Middle-Ages Europeans, here’s what peonies meant to the Japanese, Chinese and Americans (to the state of Indiana, specifically).
Their word for peony is 牡丹 or ‘botan’. Majority of historians agreed that it was the Mainland Chinese traders who had introduced to their neighbour the peony trees during the Nara period (710-794 AD). Some have argued that, “Nah, it was the Japanese Buddhist monks who brought it to Japan, not the Chinese merchants themselves.” Whoever brought peonies to Japan, peonies have definitely gained significant value as much as the Japanese’ beloved cherry blossoms ‘sakura’. The Japanese initially viewed peonies more as a medical plant than an ornamental garden plant, hence they once referred it as ‘ebisugusuri’ ("foreign medicine"). The botan’s root was used as a treatment for convulsions or epilepsy. But in time, ‘botan’ began to pop up in scrolls, brocades, ikebana (flower arrangement) and kimonos. When depicted in visual art and poetry, peonies symbolically meant good fortune, righteousness and noble spirit. To the Japanese, Paeonia suffruticosa is called the ‘King of Flowers’, while Paeonia lactiflora is called the ‘Prime Minister of Flowers’.
Peonies are grand in looks, but the taste of them is sweeter still. Mainland Chinese would use the fallen petals of Paeonia lactiflora and make it a tea-time delicacy by parboiling and sweetening it. During the Middle-Ages, they infused peony into boiled water and drink it. Once long ago, peonies were all the hype and rave during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. In fact, peonies were planted only in the gardens of the imperial palace, as only the emperor was allowed to own them. Peony was, and still is a traditional symbol of nobility and honor to the Chinese. In today’s China however, the plum blossom is designated as the national flower instead of the peony. Despite that dethronement, the Chinese still revere peonies and may continue to do so for many years to come. After all, if peonies has survived for centuries, why not into the future?
Indiana (United States of America)
Looks like China wasn’t the only one to dethrone Flower A and adopt Flower Something-Else. And it’s amazing how people can fight over flowers. You see, Indiana has a long-drawn fight about which flower should represent them. It started with carnation at first in 1913. People were dissatisfied because carnation was not an Indiana native flower. So, they substituted it with tulip in 1923. In just 8 years, the people decided that, “Tulip is interesting…but, ummm… also boring at the same time. We mean not flashy, big enough.” So, they tried the multi-talented zinnia flower and crowned it as a state flower in 1931. Rumour has it that a certain zinnia farmer was responsible of pushing zinnia in the 1931 legislation. In 1957, the Indiana General Assembly decided to review again their official flower. On 15th March, peony was crowned as Indiana’s state flower. Again, rumour has it that a commercial peony farmer, who was also a state representative, had persuaded the House to use peony instead of dogwood flower proposed by the Senate committee. People protested because like carnation, peony isn’t an Indiana native plant either. Somehow, the peony’s vibrant hues managed to win over the Indiana citizens to maintain peony as their official flower till today.