From tulips to chrysanthemums, our series “The Language of Flowers” explores everything from fresh flower care tips to flower symbolism and meaning. In this article, Janice Cox — a floral authority and author of six best-selling books — writes on the importance of Chinese flowers in the country’s culture and their most popular flower types.
History of Chinese flowers
Flowers have played a significant role in Chinese culture for centuries. They’ve appeared in countless poems, paintings, and other literary works. They’ve also been used in ceremonies and rituals to express emotion and spiritual meanings. If you were a florist in ancient China, you were treated with great respect, notes Helen Lee in her book, The Tao of Beauty.
The most prized bloom was the peony, also known as the “king of flowers” as it was used to decorate emperors’ palaces. Chrysanthemums were called the “Golden Flowers” and played major roles in festivals in addition to being used in celebratory teas. Flowers also were a critical part of feng shui, the practice of arranging items in the home to create balance with the natural world.
Chinese flowers in present day
The use of flowers as a decoration, gift, or means of communication is still practiced today in China. The styles and messages may be a bit more relaxed, but the meanings are still the same. Living plants and floral arrangements add beauty, peace, and positive energy to your home.
All eyes will be on the city of Beijing as it hosts the winter games of 2022. And flowers will play a role in the celebrations just as they have done since ancient times. Like in ancient times, flowers will be featured everywhere during the games, from victory bouquets and venue decor to artwork and clothing.
Here are some of the most popular flowers in China, their cultural symbolism, and how they’re used today.
Chrysanthemums, which symbolize happiness and vitality, are a popular autumn flower in China and carry special significance during lunar new year celebrations. Since ancient times, people have drunk wine from mums’ fermented petals.
Many ancient scholars and philosophers have written about how flowers promote long life, health, and happiness. They’re mentioned in Chinese history as far back as the 15th century B.C. The name of the Chinese city Chu-Hsien literally means “chrysanthemum city.” (“Chu” is the ancient name for the flower).
Today, the flowers are grown in a wide range of colors and sizes and are used in landscaping and floral arrangements. They’re also featured on pottery, artwork, and clothing. Chrysanthemum tea is also a popular drink in homes and teahouses.
The peony is a symbol of wealth and prosperity and is considered one of the most beautiful flowers in China. Historically, peonies were grown and enjoyed by Chinese emperors and other important people. They decorated peonies in their grand homes and planted them in royal gardens.
Today, peonies are used to convey great emotions and help celebrate major achievements such as a wedding or graduation. They are also used to convey a sentiment based on color. White peonies show you are thinking of someone, pink represents affection and romance, yellow shades are nice for wishing luck and prosperity, and red shows true passion. Presenting the one you love with a bouquet of red peonies is the ultimate, “I love you.”
Orchids are known for their simple beauty and elegance in Chinese culture. These flowers are often associated with the great teacher and philosopher Confucius. “The orchid grows where others cannot,” he said in The Analects of Confucius.
Orchids are given to friends and colleagues as a symbol of respect and admiration. They are also a symbol of good taste and beauty and are often used to describe something of great beauty. If you have a friend you are very fond of you may call them your “orchid friend” or a beautifully decorated room can be described as an “orchid room.”
Cymbidium orchids are native to China and are desired worldwide. In fact, the Chinese wild orchid trade is something that is closely monitored by the government. These plants have become so popular and sought after that certain species now have to be protected from illegal traders, according to Hong Liu an Ecologist at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.
Azalea shrubs are native to China and come in a wide variety of colors. They represent home and womanhood. They make for a thoughtful gift for parents and family members letting them know you miss them and are looking forward to seeing them soon. It is also used as a popular plant in creating bonsai trees in both Japan and China.
Several stories and folktales include the beautiful azalea shrub. One involves an emperor who was a great warrior but lived a lonely life at home. He was given some azalea plants and was instantly captivated by their color and beauty. He planted them in his garden and then found the love and happiness he desired. Today, azaleas are a popular landscape plant and gift. The dried flower buds are also used to create a calming tea that can be enjoyed at home.
The Chinese see the lotus flower as a symbol of purity. This is due to the fact that it grows from the muddy waters and emerges and blooms above the waterline with perfect dramatic beauty. Lotus plants are also some of the oldest on the planet with fossil evidence showing them surviving the ice age.
If you have the opportunity to see these flowers blooming it is a sight you will not forget. They are also a symbol of an open heart as during the day the petals open to soak up the sun and reveal their bright yellow heart or flower center for all to see. It is unusual to see a lotus flower used in arrangements, but their image is one that is a frequent symbol in art and design.
Roses have been grown in China for over 5,000 years with many varieties originating in the country’s southwest provinces. They have a long history dating back to the Han Dynasty, which ruled from 147 to 87 B.C.
In China, roses symbolize eternal spring and longevity. Grown year-round, they are popular plants that can be seen along roadways and in gardens throughout the country. In floral arrangements and bouquets, they are prized for their beauty and always a welcome gift. Like peonies, their color choice also has meaning: Pink roses represent joy, white peace, yellow friendship and unity, and red passion and love. Roses are also edible flowers and are used in desserts, jellies, and drinks.