Saturday, 19 June 2010

Flowers of Egypt


I was just asked "what sort of flowers are there in Egypt?"

Flying into Egypt at the age of three, I remember the desert and was delighted by the "big sandbox". Most people have the impression that Egypt having a huge desert would not have many flowers. In fact flowers and oils of flowers like jasmine are a big export to France for example for the perfume industry.
In relation to ikebana as a child I observed the big flower arrangements for weddings being arranged by using a flower holder made of dried reeds held together.
In some schools, like the koryu schools a similar type of stay is used.

Bird of paradise, roses, tuberose, gladiolus flowers, nasturtium, bougainvillea and for trees silk tree, date trees and other palm trees, mango trees. For water plants giant reed, papyrus, lotus, nenuphar lotus water lily, other plants rice, cotton and sugar cane, root plants like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin. Vegetables like okra, peppers and artichokes that are a favourite vegetable but an exotic ikebana material in Japan.
Other vegetables that are typically Egyptian are aubergines or eggplant, there is a white albino variety in Egypt besides the usual purple coloured one everywhere else in the world.
As the climate is usually hot and there is no severe winter, or autumn there are no autumn colours.
Cherry blossom trees have been donated by the Japanese but I have not heard of how they have survived or blossomed in Egypt.
The plants and flowers of Egypt were very well documented in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte was in Egypt. The Description de l'Egypte is available online through the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), the 11 plate volumes and the 9 text volumes owned by l'Institut d'Egypte. A useful search engine can be used in English and French.
Specifically the Histoire Naturelle IIbis has plates of the plants.
In 2008 after the last day of Wikimania in the BA I walked into a flower shop and saw many flowers that can be found everywhere like baby's breath gypsophila, not a flower I remember from my childhood in Egypt.
Marigold a bright orange flower was sold in bunches by lady vendors surrounded by their children, their name in local Arabic not very flattering because of their not very pleasant smell are highly regarded in ikebana because of their unique colour, so it is called "kinsenka" kin meaning gold, like in English, not "fisa kelab" dog's gas. Ikebana sees the good side of things.
Since ancient times there were plant symbols for Egypt, upper Egypt depicted by the lotus and lower Egypt the papyrus.
Further reading:

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