On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

National flower being taken for granted

Instead, we are comfortable putting up buntings and
banners with printed bunga raya, along with Jalur Gemilang, at official
functions. You won't find it being used as bouquets at important gatherings.
That's the respect we accord our national flower these days.

I decided to talk about this because a friend who
returned from Mexico
told me how he was taken by a tour guide to "see our beautiful and beloved
national flower".

The guide, who spoke with great pride, said it was
something he must see. On arrival at the destination, my friend saw rows and
rows of the striking and beautiful hibiscus in red and yellow.

The same sentiment takes place if you visit Hawaii.
Known as the pua aloalo in the Hawaiian language, the locals will speak proudly
of their official state flower that is always used in illima leis (garlands)
presented to visitors.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens in London,
one can find the hibiscus flower, in different varieties, being displayed at
its Palm House with detailed explanations for visitors.

If you travel to Jamaica
or Mexico,
chances are you would be offered a hibiscus-flavoured soda and that they will
tell you the hibiscus drink is good for your liver or blood pressure.

Scientists who boiled the flowers and filtered the
solution to obtain concentrated hibiscus extract have found that it can help
reduce triglycerides or bad cholesterol levels in the blood.

The flower is also taken seriously in several parts of Australia,
especially Brisbane, where the city
council reportedly imported these plants from India
for landscaping.

According status to the bunga raya is one thing. The
trouble is we have not used the plant to our commercial advantage. The roselle
drink, made from hibiscus extract, should be the preferred drink for foreign
hotel guests arriving in Malaysia
instead of some strange concoction.

On this point, not many Malaysians are even aware that
the roselle drink is made from this flower.

The bunga raya should also be the flower that greets
these guests in their rooms instead of other foreign flowers. If we impose
these requirements on our hotels, it would be a boost to our flower growers,
especially those in the rural areas.

In fact, we should go a step further. There should be a
garden where tourists can find hibiscus of all varieties – it is not too
far-fetched because the hibiscus is a tropical plant.

Originating in Asia and the Pacific
islands, the plant has been found even in cooler places like China.
In the United States,
it is found in abundance in Florida,
besides Hawaii, where the
American Hibiscus Society is based.

In colder parts of the US,
efforts have been made to grow the tropical hibiscus in heated greenhouses to
enable the public to see these plants.

In Malaysia,
we do not bother to give the flower a second look because it can be found in
our backyard in rural areas. However, in the urban centres of Kuala
Lumpur, Penang or Johor Baru,
no one can be sure where you can find the plant.

We are obsessed with trends. Hotels and homes are turning
any available land into Balinese gardens. At one time, we busied ourselves with
Japanese gardens or the bonsai craze.

Then we decided to line our roads with expensive imported
palm trees from Africa because someone, presumably, saw
them in an affluent part of California.
The palm trees look nice but they have been planted at the expense of our
national flower.

The bunga raya plant may be too scrubby and small for our
roads, but surely they can be planted at government offices if we wish to show
our foreign guests our national flower.

I may not be into flowers or floral arrangement but, like
many fellow Malaysians, I get uptight when people take this country and its
beautiful things for granted.