Header image courtesy of Zenny Yuen (via Shutterstock)
If you’re serious about getting into the floral side of Chinese New Year, then you better go in prepared. Hong Kong’s famed flower markets are a crazed (but very lovely) frenzy, and flowers can lose their cathartic edge when people are embroiled in screaming matches and others are lying on the ground in the fetal position, adorned with rotten petals from an ill-advised purchase. All right, maybe it’s not quite that intense, but still, flowers play a huge role during Chinese New Year, so it’s best to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible so you know what you’re buying. With our guide to Chinese New Year blossoms, you will no longer be asking, “What do I buy?,” “Is that an orange or a mandarin or a kumquat?,” or even “What even is a kumquat?” Good luck!
This strange-looking fruit is also known as the nipplefruit, cow’s udder, and even apple of Sodom (people sure get creative when naming unusual-looking flora...), but don’t worry, it all sounds much better in Chinese. Solanum mammosum are typically piled together to form a pyramid, and because of the five points that the fruit possesses, a potted version of these symbolises the togetherness and good health of five generations, young and old. Chinese New Year is all about family, after all.
For a more quirky choice to spruce up the living space, some families will choose to display the Buddha’s hand at home. This ornamental citrus plant is said to resemble the phalanges of the Buddha, hence its name. We’ve never seen quite so many fingers on a single hand, but these yellow orange-coloured fruits add to the festive atmosphere and are believed to bless the home with good luck.
Bent, twisted, and twirled into various shapes (such as the number eight), the lucky bamboo is the Chinese symbol for strength. The plant is decorated with red ribbons and lucky ornaments on Chinese New Year, and the number of bamboo stalks in one pot represents different things. For example, two stalks are said to be an expression of love, while seven stalks stand for good health.
Oranges and mandarins look somewhat like the sun and are aligned with the yang (positive) principle. Therefore, they are a well of abundance and happiness. If that sounds like some action you want in on, then get yourself a potted shrub for the house and watch the luck roll in—because luck can roll, apparently.
This is an important one as pomelos come into season right before Chinese New Year. Do note that both the green and yellow (ripened) versions are believed to bring good luck, so you’ve got a lot of leeway with this one when shopping for it. Hook yourself up with two of these and stick ‘em in your house (somewhere good, mind, don’t put them next to your toilet like a sad-looking book of crossword puzzles). A pair of pomelos doesn’t just stand for good luck—it’s also a symbol of family unity. Sweet.
When it comes to orchids and Chinese New Year, the diversity, pots, arrangements, bouquets, and colours available at the flower markets are dizzying. Don’t panic—and don’t listen to the vendors if they try to convince you that you need to buy 100 orchids for the luck to work (does anyone really need 100 orchids?). How many you should purchase is down to personal preference, so go with your gut feeling on this one. Gift them to that special someone as they represent fertility, abundance, refinement, luxury, and innocence.
Something of a sacred flower around Hong Kong (especially around Chinese New Year), peach blossoms are customarily placed in an expensive vase and given a place of honour in the living room, or—if you want to follow my budget exactly—a mid-size polystyrene cup. These (the flowers, not the cup) represent romance, prosperity, and growth.
Given that these beautiful flowers are associated with feminine beauty, innocence, and affection, it’s only logical that they are often gifted to a lovely lady this Lunar New Year. Or, in our case, just gift them to whoever you want to charm—no judgment.
This refers specifically to the buds on the willow plant. Use the picture above for reference so you don’t end up with a “lucky” moss-covered twig (watch out for the dyed variety). Pussy willows signify growth and represent the coming of prosperity—we’ll take it.
One of the most auspicious flowers on the list—and also the best-smelling (arguably)—these fabulous blooms are said to bring good fortune and prosperity. When you come across them at flower markets, it is likely that they will look more akin to overgrown green onions with bulbous bases than beautiful flowers, but have faith—they will soon sprout delicate white-and-yellow blossoms. Our suggestion is to have an entire suit or dress made out of the narcissus—your aroma game will be on point.
On their own, these fruits are hopeless, but bring them together and a beautiful quad-fecta (much better than a trifecta) of luck will come your way. As a whole, these fruits symbolise good luck, wealth, fortune, prosperity, and fertility—quite the all-in-one purchase, if we may be so bold. Grab a few of these from the market and use them as offerings in Buddhist temples. You can also hand them out to friends and family as gifts, and they will probably say, “Thanks for the jujube, I totally know what that is.”