Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Keng Hua - Nightblooms

Here are some pictures of a plant I've been familiar with since childhood. It looks a bit like Audrey, doesn't it?

The name of the flower is keng hua in Hokkien, and I finally managed to find a small article about it here on AsiaOne*.

Appearing at the witching hour is the heavily-scented Keng Hua, whose petals, on the other hand, seem to take an excruciatingly long while to unfold. Its botanical name is Epiphyllum Oxypetalum, and it belongs to the Cacti family.

But it's more commonly known here as the Keng Hua, and I remember the entire household staying up for hours for what was considered a highly propitious event when the flowers bloom, as it was associated with good fortune. The petals start to unfold at about 9pm, with the flower in full bloom by midnight. But the bloom or blooms (if you are exceptionally lucky) last just for that one night, before they close and fade away at dawn ... just like the graceful dying swan in Swan Lake.

This plant is meant to bring good luck when it blooms (oh, and by the way, do you know how many synonyms there are for "bloom"? Not many. So unless I start making up words like "buddlify" or "flowerate", you'll be seeing that word a lot.) Small buds start appearing weeks beforehand, and you watch them grow, oh so excrutiatingly slowly, until one evening (usually when there is a full moon out, but I can't confirm this for certain) they spring open and release their fragrance into the night air. The smell isn't sickly-sweet, it's just strong-sweet, personally I find it more invigorating than heady. Their full blossoms look like sacred lotus flowers, which is probably why the Chinese consider them lucky.

The last time this plant flowered was a few months ago, and it gave us around fifty blossoms. My mother rang me, full of excitement. "Our keng hua has bloomed! So many flowers!"

Today I counted 40, with more little buds starting to form. I hope I'm here on the night they come out. Hurry up!

* Source: Nature's Reliable Time-Keepers, Thien, The Business Times, July 9, 1999.


cheryl said...

Any idea who or where near the west of Singapore would have this plant? A dear friend of mine is looking for the blooms to use as medication for herself (recommended by a chinese doctor) I would also greatly appreciate anyone who might know where to buy it. Please reply to my comment if you have any idea.

an9ie said...

I'm afraid I don't, but it is a very common flower and appears in a lot of gardens. If you see one perhaps ask the owner for a cutting as they are very easy grow. I also didn't know they had medicinal properties--you learn something new every day!

Olga Pillai said...

I received a Keng Hua from two old ladies in a Singapore coastal restaurant, about half a century ago. You can't ask for a stem. It has to be given to you.
When they were going to bloom we would give a party and we would all sit excitedly to watch the blooming. It would give you luck. I made lots of plants and gave them away, but when I went to the U.S. I took a small plant along and it is now very large and still blooms but only once a year.
So far I have had a wonderful life, so it must have given me luck!

Eagles-Arise said...

Beautiful plant!

A few questions:
1. Can they be re-potted - small to larger - how delicate are the root systems?
2. What fertilizer and how often would you recommend?
3. Watering - how often - we are living in North Queensland - wet and dry season.