In this era of life-lists and books on 1001 places to see, mountains to climb, trails to hike, rivers to raft, etc. all to do before you die, maybe as travelers and flower lovers we should develop our own life-lists of flower sites around the world. The plants on this list would be the must-sees – the oldest, tallest, shortest – wildflowers, commercial crops, roadside or trailside, and fruit trees – oddities, originals, scented; and flower festivals and official flowers.
Just as some bird tours focus on viewing a particular bird at a certain time in a specific location, single blossom plants exist that you might travel a great distance to see. The plants on this list would be the “must-sees.” These beauties include, among many others, the bee orchid in its native Cypress; the blue Egyptian lilies in Cairo; the black iris at Petra; and the blue poppies in Bhutan.
But life-lists are composed of many categories, and a flower life-list would be no exception. Biggest, oldest, tallest, etc., are all vying for your attention. The biggest category would include: the world’s largest wisteria, which blooms in March in the city of Sierra Madre, California; and the largest rose tree (8,000-sqft arbor) is growing in, of all places, Tombstone, Arizona.
Oldest is another category. My list would include the oldest camellias in the New World at two plantations near Charleston, South Carolina (Magnolia and Middleton Place). I should then consider the Tang Dynasty plum tree and the Ming Dynasty camellia at Black Dragon Pool in Longquan Hill, China. They are living works of art, especially when they bloom in February.
Tallest: the tallest rhododendrons I’ve ever heard of are in Sikkim, India, and stand 60′ high, and I want to see them bloom! (May to October)
Shortest? Would that be an appropriate category for flowers? It could apply to alpine plants, which are actually wildflowers that grow at higher elevations where soil conditions are poor, and weather is extreme. It could also apply to new cultivated varieties, such as Belgium azaleas. Maybe the original tulips still growing in Turkey and the purple irises of Mt. Gilboa, Israel, would fit here.
What about wildflowers? This would really expand the list. Almost every place on earth has wildflowers. There are the daisies in Namaqualand, South Africa; the California poppies in the deserts east of Los Angeles; the bogs in Estonia; the red poppies in Tuscany; the vernal pools in Northern California; the mountains of Bhutan; the bluebells in Great Britain; and the hillsides in Galilee to name just a few. Then there’s Australia, a wildflower lover’s paradise.
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Not technically wildflowers, the wild herbs of the Mediterranean area make up for their lack of striking color in scent: a “pizza seasoning” aroma. But the wild herbs along the Camino de Santiago comprise rosemary, thyme, and wild lavender with wild rose thrown into the mix. Heavenly!
Here’s a different category: Roadside or trailside. Sometimes your best memory of a trip is of the flowers that lined the roadside. For this group, I’d have to say the fuchsias in Madeira rival the chicory in SW Virginia and the wild roses of Nova Scotia.
I’d have to include an oddities category, too. The flowers of the Argan trees in Morocco are definitely odd–the local goats get into the trees and eat the leaves when the trees are in bloom! The silversword in Maui’s Haleakala Crater is another odd-looking flower, as are South Africa’s proteas. Of course, orchids would fit here.
Then there are the field crops of flowers. Flowers are a worldwide commodity, and lavender is now grown nearly everywhere worldwide (as are sunflowers and coffee). I’d have to see if the different types and growing conditions changed their scent. That study alone could take me to some interesting places: while I’m sniffing the air at the lavender farm in Tasmania, I could also admire the fields of pink opium poppies fluttering in the breeze. Or I could compare the intensity of aroma from commercial fields of roses between Turkey and Bulgaria.
What about fruit trees? Festivals are celebrating these blooming field crops. Apricot blossom festivals in Korea; plum blossom festivals to celebrate the Chinese New Year; almond blossom festivals in Northern California; and the most celebrated cherry blossoms in Japan.
Some flowers could have their own category. Violets grow in alpine areas, bogs, along trails in dry areas during the wet season, and ancient gardens. Different colors would increase the value of the list: yellow violets in Argentina, purple in France, lavender in British Columbia, lavender/white in Japan…this could go on and on.
Perhaps the most interesting is the “origin of” category. I would definitely want to see the hillside in Turkey where the modern tulip ancestors still grow. Then there’s the source of the original African violets in Tanzania; the hillside in Taxco, Mexico, where the original poinsettias grow (which don’t look much like modern poinsettias); the national park in Argentina where wild petunias provided the stock of our modern bedding plants; Easter lilies that originated in Bermuda; and the mountain in Japan where centuries-old white-blossoming cherry trees bloom in sequence up the mountain and look like snowdrifts.
What about scent? That would make a list even longer. I must visit the ylang-ylang plantations in Madagascar; then there are the peonies in China, mimosas in France, daphne in the Dolomites…And we haven’t even touched orchids yet!
I’ll also have to attend flower festivals–there’s one every month somewhere in the world. Again, I would have a lot to choose from: crabapple festivals in China, Japan, and Rhode Island. There are several azalea festivals, hydrangea festivals, dogwood festivals worldwide, and rhododendron festivals in New Zealand, China, Japan, England, and many places in the US. I’d have to compare the rose festivals in Morocco, Japan, New Zealand, China, and many US cities.
Should I include “official” flowers? Such as the many “Jacaranda City” attributions around the world; or the national flower status bestowed upon flowers–this could get diplomatically tricky: the water lily is the national flower of several Asian countries. The same is true for state flowers: for Kansas, it’s the sunflower; for Wyoming, it’s Indian paintbrush, but for three states, it’s the violet.