Chinese New Year flowers: the beautiful plum blossom

There are many flowers that are considered auspicious that welcome in the Lunar New Year, ranging from orchids to chrysanthemums to lilies and peach blossoms, but the one that I grew up with and know intimately because my grandma had a bush of them is the understated yet gorgeous plum blossom. Plum blossoms, or mei hua 梅花 in Chinese, are these huge, thin branches of small, dainty white or pale pink blooms. They initially appear unassuming, but once their little tiny buds bloom, they are like welcome sprays of warmth and happiness along seemingly bare and austere brown stems. If you are lucky enough to display them in your home, not only will they last quite some time (assuming you cut or buy them when the buds are tightly closed), but you’ll definitely need a large and sturdy vase to store them in, as the branches are quite long and big.

I grew up in a flat in the Richmond District of San Francisco, where we had a backyard that was once filled with gorgeous flowers and a handful of Chinese vegetables my grandma grew; this assortment included the gorgeous mei hua/plum blossoms, which grew in the top right corner of the yard. Although the Richmond is known for being in the colder and foggier part of the city, somehow, my grandma always made her garden bloom. But once she died, many things died with her, from the garden to all her amazing recipes and cooking. My dad attempted (and failed mostly) at growing a number of things, always blaming the weather as opposed to his own efforts/choices in flowers. I always wondered: if it was really so hard, then why did Grandma always succeed?

After my grandma died, my dad decided he didn’t want the plum blossom tree anymore. So he hacked it. I didn’t realize exactly how sad it was until years later, when I had vague memories of those plum blossoms and realized that they were never going to be anymore because my dad stupidly decided to kill it for zero reason. It’s not like he replaced it with some other beautiful tree or shrub. The yard continues to look like a haphazard waste land of weeds and random crap growing with no rhyme or reason. And recently while in Flushing, I asked a flower vendor how much a couple of branches of these plum blossoms would be. I was shocked: she told me she was charging $60 for a couple stems! If only my dad had realized how valuable these were, then maybe he wouldn’t have killed the bush.

Maybe at some point, I will buy some plum blossoms to display around Lunar New Year, in memory of my grandma. Whenever I see them, I am reminded of her and her green thumb. And I do quite love them even though I never have them. Plum blossoms are a sign of the beginning of spring, so it makes sense that they would be a part of Lunar New Year, or what in China is called the Spring Festival.

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