by Sally Lin
Growing up, I always watched my grandma tending to many different plants in her garden. She had all sorts of plants. Those I remember best were the flowers jasmine and gardenia that bloom at dusk and produce this sweet aroma that filled the air. Even now, when I smell jasmine it brings back memories and I once again feel like a child. I adored those flowers for their sweet smell and they were always my favorite. However, they also sparked my curiosity because unlike all the other flowers in my grandma’s garden, both jasmine and gardenia bloom at night. I remember asking my grandma about night-blooming flowers, and that was the first time I learned about Tanhua (昙花).
Tanhua is the Cinderella of the Plants. It blooms once a year for a few hours at night and wilts before dawn. Its name appears in a common proverb used in the Chinese language--tanhua yi xian (昙花一现)--to describe things or events as ephemeral, which match the flower’s characteristic perfectly. After my childhood encounter with Tanhua , I forgot all about it. That is, until I rediscovered it on the big screen in Crazy Rich Asians.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic-comedy that showcased Asian actors and actresses. This movie caught my attention not only due to the incredible cinematics but also because they gave spotlight to the beautiful plant, Tanhua. The appearance of Tanhua in the movie took me by surprise and ignited my interests to learn more about this flower.
Now, as an adult, I wanted to dig deeper to learn more specifics and history of the plant. I learned that Tanhua is also known as the Queen of the Night or Epiphyllum oxypetalum and it is in the cactus family (Cactacea). Tanhua can grow up to 10 feet tall and its iconic white flowers can expand to ten inches in length and five inches in width. However, the most distinguished feature is still the bloom time. Tanhua blooms only for a single night, and this uniqueness attracts enthusiasts from all over the world to witness its beauty and to celebrate the occasion of blooming.
Tanhua is known and loved in China and other Asian countries but it’s not actually native to this region; it originated from the rainforest of Mexico and other regions of Central and South America and was first brought to China in the 1600’s. Its beauty and uniqueness sparked the interest of many people and it gained popularity across Asia. It is said that Tanhua’s bloom brings luck and prosperity to the family.
Even though this plant is very special and unique, it is not scarce and is very easy to care for. Some websites recommend that Tanhua can be grown in hanging baskets or supported in pots. They prefer indirect sunlight and don't require much watering as every two weeks is enough. The minimal effort to care for the plant gives back huge rewards as the blooming event is all worth the wait. Tanhua is so popular, there are many websites with information on how to grow your own Tanhua including The Garden Clinic, Gardenerdy, eTrib, and SFGate.
I first learned about Tanhua as a child from my grandma, but neglected that information for years. Crazy Rich Asians brought me back to my childhood and led me into learning more about this incredible plant. After realizing how easy it is to care for Tanhua, I might have just found the perfect gift for my grandma.
Sally is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh where she is studying biology. She was born in China and moved to the United States when she was 8. Sally loves meeting people, learning about different cultures and finding little details around her, including noticing cool plants!
Photo Credit (top): Photo Credit: P.Karpiński, Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Epiphyllum_oxypetalum_01.jpg)