Friday, 20 January 2012

The Tết’s flower

Have you been looking at the moon? It’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller…The New Moon is coming very soon, and so is the Lunar New Year! To celebrate this very special date, I will dedicate a post to a very special flower used in the Vietnamese (and maybe in other nations?) traditional celebrations of the Lunar New Year, or “Tết”. The first time I saw these flowers was here in Thailand and they kept my attention because of weirdness of their looks...

What else can I say? It looks just weird to me!

Since the first time I saw this flower I wondered to which family it belongs to, but the morphological clues didn’t ring me any bell - at all! I had no idea about the family of this plant. Until one day, when my Vietnamese herpetologist friend suggested me to talk about one of the most famous plants in Vietnam – Ochna integerrima. I was very much surprised when I realized that it was the flower I was wondering about for so many weeks! Thank you in advance for this, Ha. 

Ochna belongs to its own family, Ochnaceae and no wonder I could not identify this family – I have to admit I knew very little about Ochnaceae until now! But now I can say that I know little enough to dedicate one entire post to these flowers. Ochna integerrima is the most celebrated plant in Vietnam, because it blooms during the Tết, having a special meaning for Vietnamese culture. The Vietnamese believe that these bright yellow flowers bring luck and prosperity for the coming year.


Another curiosity about this plant came up while I was googling “Ochna integerrima”, coming up automatically “Vietnamese Mickey Mouse Plant”… This common name made sense to me as I had seen the plant already, but for those who have never seen or heard about it before it might sound strange. This plant produces some beautiful round-shaped black berries on a bright-red head-like receptacle. So probably, some cartoon-lover botanist saw Mickey Mouse’s ears on the berries and decided to name it this way!

Fair enough!

After what happened I had to search about this family and will give you now some tips so we can all easily identify Ochnaceae. No more excuses! The flowers are usually pentamerous, having 5 sepals (usually enlarging in fructification) and 5 free petals (often caducous). The number of carpels is variable, sometimes fused having a terminal style, or if free with a gynobasic style.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any flower with the petals as they are caducous and I only found later stages, already forming fruit

So now that we all know how an Ochnaceae flower looks like, I would like to wish you happy celebrations for those who celebrate. For those who do not usually celebrate, I suggest you to spend some time looking at the sky for a change, trying to find the New Moon!

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! =)