National Flower Series–East Asia 5–Taiwan Republic of China– Prunus Mume

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梅花 (Plum Blossom)

梅花梅花滿天下 愈冷它愈開花

 梅花堅忍象徵我們 巍巍的大中華

看啊遍地開了梅花 有土地就有它

 冰雪風雨它都不怕 它是我的國花

看啊遍地開了梅花 有土地就有它

 冰雪風雨它都不怕 它是我的國花

梅花梅花滿天下 愈冷它愈開花

 梅花堅忍象徵我們 巍巍的大中華

梅花 唱:劉家昌 詞:劉家昌 曲:劉家昌

 

Most Chinese  will not be unfamiliar with the above patriotic song which was written for the Taiwanese film “Victory” (梅花) (1976) by its director Liu Chia Chang (劉家昌) and that basically summed up the characteristics of Prunus Mume and the importance of this flower in Taiwan. If you are do not understand Chinese language, you may want to refer here for its Chinese Pronunciations and English translations.

General information

Plum blossom is highly appreciated and admired for its early (January to March in central and southern China) blossoms, Prunus mume has enjoyed great popularity in China and Japan for centuries. It is popular as a bonsai and a ‘must’ in every Japanese-style garden. The world famous Kairaku-en garden in Japan, for example, boasts 3,000 specimens including 100 different cultivars, which create a feast for the eye during the ‘plum blossom’ season in late February/early March. Due to its long history of cultivation and cultural significance, there are more than 300 known cultivars in China, which differ mainly in the color of their flowers (which can be white, pink, red, purple or light green).

National Symbol

The plum blossom, Prunus mei, was officially designated by the ROC Executive Yuan (legislative council) to be the national flower on July 21, 1964. The plum blossom, which has shades of pink and white and gives off a delicate fragrance, has great symbolic value for the Chinese people because of its resilience during the harsh winter. (Source: www.kew.org)

The triple grouping of stamens (one long and two short) represents Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People (namely nationalism, democracy and socialism (民族主義, 民權主義 and 民生主義)), while the five petals symbolize the five branches of the ROC government.  (Source: Taiwan President’s Office’s website) namely Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Examination Yuan and Control Yuan.

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Species information

  • Scientific name                    : Prunus mume Siebold
  • Common name(s)                 : mume, ume, mei flower, Chinese plum, Japanese apricot.
  • Chinese name                      : 梅

Additional notes

  • Plum blossom tree is related to both the plum and apricot trees. Although generally referred to as a plum in English, it is more closely related to the apricot.
  • The fruit ripens in early summer, around June and July in East Asia, and coincides with the rainy season of East Asia, the “meiyu“ (梅雨季节, literally “plum rain”). Those who live in East Asia will knew that during this season, the whole area will become very damp and mold will appear in household items from kitchen condiments to leather jackets etc..

  • The fruit of the tree is used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking in juices, as a flavoring for alcohol, as a pickle and in sauces. It is also used in traditional medicine. 
  • Ume vinegar is a traditional digestive aid produced from Prunus Mume. Its sour and salty taste stimulates the production of saliva and stomach acids, which in turn help the body to break down and assimilate the nutrients in the food. Try it as a condiment on soups, stews, vegetable and grain dishes to absorb more nutrition and eliminate indigestion. You can read further: here.
  • Plum blossom is a flower not only important in Taiwan ROC but also have a huge cultural impact on Japanese and other Chinese communities. In fact, it is also another prime candidate considered for the national flower of People’s Republic of China. You can read my earlier post: National Flower of People’s Republic of China where the peony is deemed to be the unofficial national flower.
  • In Chinese, plum blossom it is one of the flower representatives associated with the four seasons namely orchid for spring (春蘭)、bamboo for summer(夏竹)、chrysanthemum for autumn (秋菊)、plum blossom for winter(冬梅).
  • The combination for these four flowers, collectively called “four flowers gentlemen”, also a Chinese painting favorite, denotes four characters that a gentleman should possess. Plum blossom signifies ability to withstand hardship as it blooms in the cold winter: orchids symbolize modesty, beauty, joy and purity; chrysanthemum reminds us that it is possible to triumph when the going gets tough and to be brave when faced with adversity and lastly bamboo represents upright and continual growth (梅寒盛放,蘭花清秀,菊花淡香、竹子節節上升).

Picture from: www.nicpic.com

  • Lastly, ever wonder what is the difference between plum blossoms as in this post and the cherry blossoms which is famous in Japan? Well, they looked very similar and most people can’t tell and I have found one article which state the differences as follows:
  Plum Blossoms (梅花) Cherry Blossoms(樱花)
 
Flower Plum blossoms don’t have any split at the end of the petals. Cherry blossoms have a small split at the end of each petals.
Bark The bark on a plum tree is darker and does not have distinctive horizontal line on it. The bark of the cherry tree often have small horizontal lines on it.
Flower Bud There is only one plum blossom coming out of the bud. More than one cherry will come out of a cherry bud.
Leaves Plum blossoms have small purple leaves that are unrolling although some species do have leaves that are green The leaves of cherry trees are green and unfolding.

You can refer to this website if you are interested to have a visual differentiations between plum and cherry blossoms. How about taking up another challenges to differentiate these two blossoms with the third blossom, i.e. peach blossoms (桃花)?

Hope you enjoy the post. Cheers

National Flower Series–East Asia 1–Japan–Chrysanthemum

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National Flower Series – East Asia 1 – Japan (De-facto or non-official)

Japan do not have officially declared national flowers like other countries. However, two flowers that have significant influences in Japanese cultures and histories : Chrysanthemum (菊花) and Cherry Blossom (樱花) were deemed to be the de-facto national flowers.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums, often called mums or chrysanths, are perennial flowering plants of the genus Chrysanthemum in the family Asteraceae which are native to Asia and northeastern Europe.Chrysanthemum are herbaceous perennial plants growing to 50–150 cm tall, with deeply lobed leaves with large flower heads that are generally white, yellow or pink in the wild.

Chrysanthemum had a deep rooted relationship with the royal family as evidenced by the following observations. It is believed that chrysanthemum may have been brought to Japan in the eighth century AD and the Emperor adopted a 16 petals yellow chrysanthemum flower design as his imperial seal (菊花印章) which shall solely be used by the members of the Japanese Imperial family. The Emperor also have chosen to name “Chrysanthemum Throne” to represent the periods reigned by Japanese emperors. A number of formerly state-endowed shrines (官国弊社), kankokuheisha) adopted chrysanthemum in its crest, most notably Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. In addition, the Japanese honor awarded by the emperor were named as the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.In Imperial Japan, small arms were required to be stamped with the Imperial Chrysanthemum, as they were considered the personal property of the Emperor.

Cherry Blossom (Sakura)

A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is sometimes called sakura after the Japanese (桜 or 櫻; さくら). Many of the varieties that have been cultivated for ornamental use do not produce fruit. Edible cherries generally come from cultivars of the related species Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus.

In Japan, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have been utilized often in Japanese art, manga, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. There is at least one popular folk song, originally meant for the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), titled “Sakura”, and several pop songs. The flower is also represented on all manner of consumer goods in Japan, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.

The Sakurakai or Cherry Blossom Society was the name chosen by young officers within theImperial Japanese Army in September 1930 for their secret society established with the goal of reorganizing the state along totalitarian militaristic lines, via a military coup d’état if necessary.

During World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people, to stoke nationalism and militarism among the populace. Even prior to the war, they were used in propaganda to inspire “Japanese spirit,” as in the “Song of Young Japan,” exulting in “warriors” who were “ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter.” A cherry blossom painted on the side of the bomber symbolized the intensity and ephemerality of life;in this way, the aesthetic association was altered such that falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor.The first kamikaze unit had a subunit called Yamazakura or wild cherry blossom.The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms.

In its colonial enterprises, imperial Japan often planted cherry trees as a means of “claiming occupied territory as Japanese space”.

http://www.examiner.com; http://en.wikipedia

It is such a coincidence that the two countries (Japan and China) I have selected to kick off the EAST ASIAN COUNTRIES NATIONAL FLOWER SERIES do not have officially declared national flowers. However, its is still included as part of the National Flower Series because of their significant influences in these countries’ culture; that particular species’ origins; uniqueness to the countries; likability and perception by the people that rendered their de-facto status.