This article is in conjunction with Malaysia Day which falls tomorrow
By Sakini Mohd Said
KUALA LUMPUR: It may be Malaysia’s national flower but the hibiscus is always treated as a poor cousin when it comes to selecting plants for landscaping purposes as preference is usually given to bougainvillea, roses and orchids.
Fondly regarded as the queen of tropical flowers by hibiscus fanciers, the humble yet alluring bunga raya (whose scientific name is hibiscus rosa-sinensis) was declared the national flower in 1960.
During the 1980s and 90s, the hibiscus was rather popular and featured prominently in home gardens and the landscapes of government and private buildings.
Sadly, its popularity has faded over the past two decades and these days, many people regard it as an ordinary ‘kampung flower’.
Hibiscus galore in housing scheme
How did a flower that was held in high esteem by the nation be relegated to the status of ‘kampung flower’?
“The ‘kampung flower’ label probably came about because the hibiscus is not as widely grown in urban areas as in kampungs,” said Kelab Bunga Raya (Hibiscus) Malaysia founder and head Ibnu Hasan Al-Amin.
He lamented that not many Malaysians appear to show an interest in the hibiscus plant despite the beauty of its blooms.
Ibnu Hasan, who runs his club via Facebook, said since setting up his club in 2014, the response from netizens has been lukewarm and as of Sept 7 this year, its membership comprised merely 693 Facebook accounts.
On a brighter note, in a luxury residential scheme located about 53 kilometres from the capital city, many of its residents have taken to adorning their gardens with potted hibiscus plants bearing flowers of various shades.
In fact, all the roads within Residensi Bayan in Bandar Tropicana Aman in Telok Panglima Garang, Selangor, are also lined with hibiscus plants.
One of its residents Chamberlain Michael Abu, 39, set the ball rolling by being the first to grow potted hibiscus plants in the garden of his double-storey super-link house.
Attracted by his pink, red and yellow blooms, his neighbours started planting hibiscus as well and so did members of the housing scheme’s WhatsApp chat group where they often have lively discussions on the hibiscus led by Chamberlain.
Flower’s beauty inspires neighbours
Chamberlain, who is a senior technical support engineer at SAS Institute Sdn Bhd, reckoned that the hibiscus would be more sought after if it happens to go viral on social media.
“For instance, look at the lidah jinn plant (snake plant) … it went viral recently and people are all planting it in their gardens,” he said.
Chamberlain, who is a Melanau and hails from Sibu, Sarawak, said he developed an interest in the hibiscus about two years ago when he moved to Bandar Tropicana Aman and his garden now features a collection of more than 14 varieties, including the red-coloured national flower.
“I planted them in pots and placed them in my garden at the back of my house which is visible to passers-by. Many residents would often stop by to admire my hibiscus,” he said, adding that he is committed to promoting the hibiscus to the local community, especially the younger generation.
He said his conversations with his multiracial neighbours revealed that many of them had never set eyes on a hibiscus flower until they saw his plants.
“They had only seen its pictures in books or on the Internet and never realised how beautiful the flower looked close up. They also didn’t know that it can be planted in pots,” he added.
And, before he knew it, fellow residents started seeking his expertise, ideas and hibiscus cuttings to beautify their own lawns with the plant.
Chamberlain’s multiracial neighbourhood has about 1,000 residents, most of whom share a warm and cordial relationship, thanks to their mutual love for the hibiscus flower.
“It is, indeed, true that the hibiscus flower has forged unity among us,” he said.
Chamberlain also noted a growth in the membership of several local hibiscus clubs during the movement control order. He himself is an active member of some of these clubs, including Kelab Peminat Bunga Raya, and has received requests for cuttings from new members who want to try their hand at growing hibiscus plants in their gardens.
“Each cutting can cost up to RM28 (at nurseries) but I give them away free of charge as my parents have taught me to share the good things I have with others,” he said.
Principal fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, meanwhile, urged Malaysians to plant the national flower in their gardens.
Heaping praises on Chamberlain for promoting the hibiscus, he said: “Chamberlain has not only inspired his neighbours to appreciate the bunga raya but also plant it in their homes to reflect their patriotic spirit.”
Apart from its unifying quality, the hibiscus flower’s five petals symbolise the five principles of the Rukun Negara, he added.
In view of the uniqueness of the hibiscus, Teo hoped that the authorities, including ministries, government and private agencies, would mobilise their efforts to reinstate the bunga raya to its glory. – Bernama