As Chinese New Year approaches, nurseries do roaring business because auspicious plants are must-haves for the festivities. Chrysanthemums, Phoenix tail, kumquats, bamboo and desert roses (fu qui hua) are perennial favourites as their names symbolise values of Chinese treasure.
And these days, a new generation of Chinese are redefining their favourite Lunar New Year plants. Social media comes into play, of course, because millennials are going for plants and flowers that look good on Instagram.
“Before purchasing a plant for the New Year, some customers consider if the plant can rack up a large number of ‘Likes’ on social media,” says nursery owner Steve Teh.
Many are constantly finding ways to obtain more shares and followers on their social media, and some get extra creative with their posts to guarantee those extra ‘Likes’ on their news feed. That same creativity applies when posting CNY plants too.
“All it takes is to spruce each flower or plant with suitable decoration and arrangement to make it look even more presentable, especially on Instagram,” says Teh, adding that younger customers find photos of chrysanthemums, cherry blossoms and mother-in-law’s tongue old-fashioned.
This year, Teh has noticed a growing demand for plants that are more artistic and carefree. One of his bestselling festive plants is the curly spider. It’s considered an auspicious plant because its curly leaves are believed to help twist and turn bad luck around.
Rex begonia is another popular plant for the Year Of The Pig. This decorative plant resembles lettuce leaves (sang choy), a must-have at reunion dinners. The leaves come in dual shades of red, pink or green to signify abundance and prosperity.
Succulents, known as jade plants or money plant, is also part of the cactus family. Its thick leaves retain water, which symbolises wealth and good fortune. And there’s also the English ivy with its flowing vines, said to help to boost prosperity and also ward off evil and negative energy.
Meanwhile, Flaming Katy (or kalanchoe) comes in blooms of red, purple and yellow to signify good luck, prosperity and happiness. There’s also a growing preference for smaller variety of traditional plants like chrysanthemums and lucky bamboo.
“These days, customers prefer mini chrysanthemums instead of big head flowers, a preferred choice of the older generation. Compact plants are easily transferable around the home, especially for those living in apartments,” says Teh, who runs a private garden in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
One plant that remains evergreen is the humble bamboo, a must-have for any CNY decoration. The twisted bamboo plant signifies that you can bend your luck from bad to good. Bamboo, cultivated to resemble a pineapple, symbolises good fortune (ong lai).
Variegated plants and double petal kalanchoe are also in demand. Instead of traditional colours like red, yellow and pink, people are opting for flowers in shades of dark purple, copper and golden yellow.
Nowadays, people prefer plants that are easier to maintain. “Roses, orchids, pussy willow, hydrangeas are among the high-maintenance flowers,” says Teh, who says potted herbs like rosemary and basil can also be adorned with red ribbons to greet the New Year.
“One must have knowledge and interest to care for these plants. A number of these blossoms don’t come cheap either. Customers prefer plants that look good and are low-maintenance.”