Sunday, April 18, 2010

Floral Arrangements

Bauhinia 'Blakeana' at Aberdeen

I've been thinking about flowers...
Maria Wong, (Performing Arts Manager for the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation) had sent a series of photographs of the site while we were still back in New York City. The very first one had a series of red bougainvillea flowers, strewn across a bricked path by a stone wall. The contrast was striking, and it also jogged sensory memories from our previous visit to Hong Kong in 2007. I remember being amazed at how much of the vegetation was similar to my hometown in Florida: bougainvillea, sansevieria, caladiums, and other tropical and semi-tropicals. When I was here last it helped me connect to a city that seemed so different at first. This time around, I felt that I wanted to include this in some way.
I arrived before Zach last week, and upon my first full day in Hong Kong, I wandered through Hong Kong Park, botanizing as I do. I saw plants I knew, but I also started to see beyond the similarities into the differences, and the plant life that was unfamiliar to me.
I happened upon the Bauhinia blakeana or Hong Kong Orchid Tree, the floral emblem of Hong Kong, and I found myself looking at a flower both familiar and completely alien. Only upon revisiting my research later that night, did I make the connection. This plant, whose image appears on Hong Kong's coat of arms, flag and coins, was discovered near Pok Fu Lam around 1880… by the botanizing French Missionaries of Bethanie!
Only one tree was ever discovered, above the shore line in Western Hong Kong near Pok Fu Lam. The tree itself is sterile and can only be propagated by asexual methods, and the thousands that now populate the island were made mostly through air-layering from this original specimen. Its Chinese name 洋紫荊 is frequently shortened to 紫荊 , dropping the first character which means “foreign” and is often construed as a negative. Ahem! So much to work with here!
So, naturally when I told Zach about this, he also became excited about the symbolic possibilities in using a flower who’s genesis and identity is so entwined with the French fathers and with Hong Kong itself, not to mention what it speaks to in terms of indigenous, foreign, and hybridity issues.
How will we use it? Well, that requires a bit more research, but we have a few thoughts. Certainly with reverence. Stay tuned…
- Tom

Further Botanical Information:
Bauhinia × blakeana (Chinese: 洋紫荊) is an evergreen tree, in the genus Bauhinia, with large thick leaves and striking purplish red flowers. The fragrant, orchid-like flowers are usually 10-15 cm across, and bloom from early November to the end of March. It is referred to as bauhinia in non-scientific literature though this is the name of the genus. It is sometimes called Hong Kong orchid tree (香港蘭).
The Bauhinia double-lobed leaf is similar in shape to a heart, or a butterfly. A typical leaf is 7-10 cm long and 10-13 cm broad, with a deep cleft dividing the apex. Local people call the leaf "clever leaf" (聰明葉), and regard it as a symbol of cleverness. Some people use the leaves to make bookmarks in the hope that the bookmarks will bring them good luck in their studies.
It is sterile (does not produce seed), and is a hybrid between Bauhinia variegata and Bauhinia purpurea.[1][2] Propagation is by cuttings and air-layering, and the tree prefers a sheltered sunny position with good soil. As it is only known in cultivation, it can also be named as a cultivar: Bauhinia 'Blakeana'.[1]

1 comment:

ChrisC said...

I love hearing about your process, you guys do such good research!