Chinese ‘12 Flowers of the Months Teacups’ – October/Orchid

At least 35,000 orchid species now populate the planet—and orchidists believe that unknown species still await discovery. Orchids have adapted to live in all types of environments—mountains, bogs, grasslands and rainforests.

Botanists believe that orchids were first cultivated for their fragrance. Centuries ago elegantly potted cymbidium orchids were kept and treasured in China and Japan for their delightful, intoxicating sweet scent rather than for their delicate flowers or for their elegant, stately posture.

According to the website ‘ the orchid has been a symbol of love, luxury and beauty for centuries. To the early Greeks, the orchid represented virility, and in China, Confucius (551 BC – 479 ) called it “the plant of the king’s fragrance.” During the Middle Ages, the orchid was considered an aphrodisiac and was used in love potions.

Serious orchid collecting began in the 18th century, but because of their rarity at the time, only a few botanists and wealthy amateurs could enjoy them. In 1818, William Cattley became the first person to bloom an orchid, an event that changed the flower world forever. Orchid hunters stripped forests of millions of orchids, putting many on endangered species lists. A single orchid sold for thousands of dollars. This practice has since been banned, and species are now bred and cultivated specifically for sales.’

In classical Chinese ink and wash paintings monumental stylized landscapes of mountains and rivers were rendered in vivid brush strokes and with varying degrees of intensity. These paintings express the artist’s own emotions and individual concepts of the natural world.

During China’s Song  dynasty ( 960-1279 ) flower and bird paintings became a separate genre of painting.  Many artists perfected their subject matter which included a rich variety of flowers, fruits, insects and fish. Favorite images included bamboo, chrysanthemums, orchids, pine, and plum blossoms .

orchid painting by Chinese artist Zheng Sixiao(1239~1316)

Together with bamboo, chrysanthemums and plum blossoms, the orchid is known as one of the ‘four gentlemen’ because these plants represent admirable virtues of loftiness, righteousness, modesty and purity.

The verse on the back of my cup has been translated for me as such:
orchids blowing yield their ancient fragrance daily

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.


Chinese ’12 Flowers of the Months’ Teacups – February/Apricot Blossoms

It figures……there’s a snag in this concept.

Just as I was about to write the February post for cup #2  in my series – apricot blossoms – I realized that my set does not have the appropriate cup. Or more correctly, does not have a cup with the appropriate flower. According to the best information that I can find, the February cup should depict apricot blossoms, yet no such flower is represented in my set. In fact, there are no spring blossoms of any kind that are not already accounted for.

Now I am not saying that my set arrived missing an actual cup, because I indeed have 12 cups with no duplications of image or verse. So, what then, is my mystery cup ?

It appears to be a lush display of hibiscus blossoms, and according to the translation:

standing still, hibiscus flowers at autumn’s water

The information that I have about the 12 Flowers of the Months teacup set on display in the Falstaff Museum of Teawares in Hong Kong does not list hibiscus flowers among the set, so this is indeed curious.

I was under the impression that these cups always represented the same 12 flowers; so is the rendering of  ‘ hibiscus’  in my set an example of modern artistic license or can the 12 flowers indeed vary ?

If anyone knows, please comment here. I will be in China in the spring, and will certainly try and pose the question.  But that will still not solve my problem, because, what are the chances of finding an apricot blossom cup that will match the rest of the cups in my set ?  Slim to none, I would guess.

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

Chinese ’12 Flowers of the Months’ Tea Cups – March/ Peach Blossoms

This is the painting on the front of the 2nd cup in my set of 12  Chinese Flowers of the Months tea cups.  The lovely painting depicts a gnarly yet elegant peach tree festooned with flower buds and open blossoms.

The calligraphy on the back  reads something like: ‘the fragrance of small peach blossoms in spring’


For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.