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Flowers, Fruits and Foliage of Faith, Part 3

Most Europeans and North Americans will be familiar with Thanksgiving Festivals at their local place of worship. This is the time to offer thanks to one's God for the season's harvest of the wondrous variety of flowers, crops, trees and fruit nature provides. It is also a time to give thanks, and celebrate, the gathering in of the Harvest and the bounty that nature, and man's labor, bring to the world. At this time we are all reminded of the importance of nature and how it brings sustenance, beauty and faith to our lives.

Dawk kristmaasHere in Thailand, rice is the most important crop and, early each morning, one can see it being offered to Buddhist monks as they walk making "binderbaht". There are also particular trees and flowers which are associated with the country's faith. We have already looked at the Lotus, Jambu Tree (Rose Apple), Frangipani and the Bo Tree and their significance to Thailand. This month, we conclude our series with the Poinsettia and the Canna Lily.

The bright scarlet display of the Poinsettia is striking and is very popular with Thais, over the cool season with less hours of daylight. Although nothing to do with Buddhism, the Poinsettia brings an awareness of the Christian festival so, in Thai, it is called the "dawk kristmaas" the Christmas flower. A native of Mexico, the Poinsettia is botanically known as "Euphorbia pulcherrimo" and has been adopted by the Thais for decorative purposes. It grows particularly well in this country so it is both plentiful and affordable.

As a shrub, it can become quite straggly if not pruned regularly especially after flowering. The leaves are long, green and slightly oval shaped while the flowers are yellow and very small. However, the tiny flowers are surrounded by large, leaflike bracts in strong, stunning red. It is the brilliant red of the bracts which give the plant its decorative appeal and it can be seen, all around Chiangmai, from mid-December until late March.

Dawk phutaraksaThe Canna Lily has an association with Buddhism through its Thai name which is "dawk phutaraksa" and means "Buddha's protection". This inclusion of Buddha's name means that many Thais prefer not to grow the plant in their house garden but are happy to see it growing wild in its natural environment. A native of tropical Asia, the Cannas appear in many hues of yellow, orange, red and pink. The stalks are tall (1-2 meters) with large, elongated, pointed leaves. Dawk phutaraksaThe leaves may be a rich green, reddish brown or dark purple and each stem will bear a blossom some like gladioli and others like orchid blooms. The Cannas are quite easy to grow, love a sunny position with good water and will readily spread themselves. They are a colorful feature which visitors will see as they wander around the quaint, narrow sois of Chiangmai.

These two bright, showy plants the Poinsettia and the Canna Lily concludes this series of "Fruits, Flowers and Foliage of Faith". Visitors to the northern provinces of Chiangmai and Chiangrai often remark on the profusion of flowers and trees in the region. It is also good to know that many of the beautiful blossoms delight not only the eye but have special meanings of faith to the people of this country. So whether as religious offerings, or for simple enjoyment and appreciation, fruits, flowers and foliage are an integral part of life in Northern Thailand.

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