A New Chinese New Year Plant for the Year of the Rat

Almost every Chinese New Year, there will be a new plant that will make its debut in the festive plant market. In Singapore, this year we get to see the apple tree (Malus domestica) on sale in the local nurseries. For one thing, they are not cheap! It is not unusual for nurserymen to wrap up the fruits and prevent people from touching the plant for fear that the plant or the fruit gets damaged. Any blemish can render a festive plant unsellable.

 Why the apple tree has become a festive plant for the Chinese New Year? I guess we do not need to think too far. Alot of the Chinese names of plants are “auspicious” in nature and perhaps that is a sales tactic that has been exploited to make an ordinary plant into something special for the festive occasion. Because the Chinese name of the apple (苹果) rhymes with the word “safe” or “peace” (平安), people who wants to have these attributes for the Year of the Rat would cart one of these apple trees home. Maybe even two, since things obtained in even numbers are considered auspicious.

I was at Ang Mo Kio Lanscape and Nursery yesterday and I managed to see two pots of relatively healthy apple shrubs. They are one of the better looking ones with its fruits and leaves still intact. As expected, a truly temperate plant like the apple surely gets a rude shock in terms of the great temperature change it is experiencing now. Many respond to the heat stress by first dropping all its fruits and then the foliage. Such responses are not well received by the Chinese who are often superstitious and if such things happen, people regard it as bad luck.

Was told by a florist friend that such apple trees are most probably grafted plants where the flowering branch was cut and grafted onto a root stock so that the potted shrubs are able to flower and fruit and such a small size. It is common knowledge that the apple needs to get to a much taller tree before flowering and fruiting commences.

All in all, such a plant is meant to be discarded after being used for display during the Chinese New Year. It is really no point and in fact, a waste of space, time and effort to try to keep it alive after the festive season. But do not be surprised if you see someone here trying to revive or keep it alive. Many Singaporeans do that for the reasons that “I want to give it a try”. 

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