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January 29, 2012

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Narcissus blooms for Spring Festival

THE narcissus, which blooms in winter and early spring, is an auspicious flower, symbolizing wealth, good fortune and happiness.

Since it blooms around the time of the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is said to bring extra wealth and luck throughout the year. It has been a favorite of poets, scholars and painters.

The highly fragrant Chongming narcissus is jade-white with a golden center; it's one of the two most famous varieties in China, the other coming from Zhangzhou in Fujian Province.

Chongming narcissus has been grown on the island county for generations and a major cultivation center is located on the island.

These days, the Shanghai Chongming Narcissus Center is a sea of perfumed white and gold flowers.

Located in Xianghua Town, it's one of the biggest cultivation and sales areas in China, delivering 70,000 pots to market each year. It has around 1.8 million bulbs. Founded in 2009, it contains 15,000 square meters of green houses as well as cold storage. It also conducts research into cultivation techniques, developing the best strains using modern, ecological, low-pesticide farming.

Around 100 farmers are employed, growing rice when they are not cultivating narcissus, which provides extra benefits.

In 2010, Chongming narcissus was displayed at the Taipei International Flower and Plant Exposition and was praised by visitors and experts.

Today the cultivation center integrates production with tourism and agricultural science. It brings together education, entertainment, production and sales. Developing tourism is a major goal.

It takes less than an hour to drive from downtown Shanghai to scenic Chongming and appreciate the narcissus' beauty and fragrance, as well as other aspects of ecological agriculture. In the future there will be a narcissus garden and narcissus festival.

The man behind the Chongming narcissus is Shi Kesong, whose family has been growing narcissus for more than 100 years. Shi, in his 50s, is third generation.

Zhangzhou in Fujian Province is renowned for its narcissus and legend has it that long ago a boat from Zhangzhou, fully loaded with narcissus bulbs, sank at the mouth of the Yangtze River near Chongming Island. Several years later, beautiful flowers were growing along the shore. People dug them up, including bulbs, and transplanted them to their home gardens. The flower eventually became known as the Chongming narcissus.

But according to Shi, narcissus growing in Chongming dates back around 500 years. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was just one of many kinds of native plants growing around the island. People didn't pay much attention to it.

In the 1920s and 30s, Chongming people discovered vendors selling Zhangzhou narcissus at fairs and markets, so they started digging up and selling their own narcissus. They started planting more.

In China the narcissus grows in a few places but Zhangzhou and Chongming are the most famous, Shi says.

The Chongming narcissus doesn't have as many branches on its bulbs as the Zhangzhou flower. The round flower is jade-white and has a golden core. "Its fragrance is strong and long lasting, surpassing most other narcissus," Shi says.

Growing narcissus became big business for the Shi family, which became famous for its flowers. At one time more than 100 family members were involved in cultivation and sales.

Shi's narcissus was sold in Beijing, Tianjin and Nanjing. Shi's mother told him that on the day he was born, his father was selling narcissus in Beijing. His childhood was filled with narcissus stories. The family business went up and down and Shi initially decided not to go into the narcissus business. Instead he started a gardening business in 1992 and was quite successful.

But he was increasingly interested in Chongming narcissus. Of the 10 major flower growers only two families were left and they mostly let the flowers grow wild.

Without hesitation, Shi bought all their narcissus, thinking they might be the last of the Chongming flower.

When he decided to revive the Chongming narcissus, the biggest problem was where to plant - the local government stepped in and provided full funding to the project.

Today Shi's mother is in her 80s and she's delighted to know that her son has taken up the family business.


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