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Monday, January 25, 2010

Auspicious Plants for Chinese New Year

Auspicious Plants for Chinese New Year”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ http://www.mynicegarden.com/ on January 25, 2010.

Plum Blossoms

On February 14th, 2010 marks an important date to many people around the world. While many happy couples celebrate their romance on Valentine's Day this year, I'll be having a double happiness celebration because this same date is also my Lunar Chinese New Year!

It is indeed a very busy time for all of us who celebrate the lunar new year. First, we will refer to the almanac or consult the astrologers, geomancers or feng shui masters to check what the coming Year of the Tiger has in store for each of our family members. We will select the auspicious dates for spring cleaning our homes and offer prayers to welcome the new year.

It may sound complicated, but we refer to 3 calendars i.e. the Hsia (Solar) Calendar, the Lunar (moon) calendar and the internationally accepted Gregorian Calendar. For example, I celebrate my birthday twice a year, according to the lunar and gregorian calendar. This year I celebrated New Year Day on Jan 1st, and I will celebrate New Year again on Feb 14th.

My first important celebration this year will the the day of the Lichun on Feb 4th. This is the day we welcome Spring because according to the Hsia (solar) calendar, that is the day of the begining of spring season. On this day, we pray to the gods and welcome the God of Prosperity to our homes at an auspicious hour.

We have a saying "Hua Kai Fu Gui (花开富貴)", meaning, "When Flowers Bloom, Prosperity Comes". It is important that gardens are green & blooming and homes are decorated with healthy, vibrant plants. Care is taken to remove all dead, dying and decaying plants from sight. My post today is about auspicious plants and flowers for the Chinese New Year season.




1. Pussy Willows (genus Salix) have white, silvery buds called catkins that look like silk and emerald green shoots and leaves. They symbolise the arrival of prosperity and growth in prosperity. They are usually sold as long stalks tied in bundles. We put the stalks in tall beautiful porcelain vases to decorate our homes. We also hang auspicious ornaments to make them into money plants. Nowadays they also come in flower pots. It is a good sign if we can get the pussy willows to sprout new shoots and leaves.

2. Plum blossoms (Prunus mume) are native to China where it is known as "mei hua (梅花)". They symbolise beauty in adversity, good fortune and longevity. Plum trees flower in winter and bloom vibrantly admist winter snow after most plants have shed their leaves and before other flowers appear. Plum blossoms are symbols of winter and the harbinger of spring. Plum blossoms together with the peony are the most beloved of flowers in Chinese culture. They are the subject of many Chinese paintings, calligraphy, art and poetry. In China, the plum blossom is the Flower of Winter.

3. Peach blossoms (Prunus persicaare flowers of peach trees. Peach is a symbol of longevity. Peach blossoms are popular during Chinese New Year among celebrities in Hong Kong where it is used to enhance relationship luck and popularity. It is also associated with sex appeal, love and romance.

What's the difference between Plum, Peach and Cherry blossoms?
Plum blossoms (mei hua) are the flowers of the plum tree and they bloom in winter, between Dec-Jan. Peach (tao hua) trees bloom naturally in spring around March. Cherry trees bloom during spring as in Japan's sakura flowers season from late March to early April.

Cherry Blossoms is also a term used for trees from the Prunus genus which are cultivated to produce lots of flowers rather than the fruit. During Chinese New Year, florists in Malaysia will give you pussy willows when you ask for live cherry blossoms.  

Update: 
1. View real cherry blossoms in Joanne's Cottage Garden here (April 2010)
2. View real plum blossoms in my January 2011 post here.  


3. Celosia argentea

Their Chinese name is feng wei (凤尾) or Phoenix Tail and they represent harmony and good fortune. Celosia blooms come in reds and yellows. Red blooming plants are grouped in pairs at doorways or gates to signify double happiness and bliss for the family and home.


4. Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums symbolise perfection, optimism and joy, and on a more spiritual level, longevity and meditation. In China, the chrysanthemum is the Flower of Autumn.

We like to buy cut chrysantemum flowers, put them in vases for used as prayer offerings. We also buy them in flower pots to decorate our homes. The preferred colours are yellow and orange.



5. Orchids

Together with the peony, orchids are Flowers of Spring. Orchids are also popular objects in Chinese art and culture as they are emblems of love and beauty. Their fragranced flowers represent virtue, moral excellence, refinement and reputation. They also symbolise good family luck and plenty of progeny. Violet coloured orchids are said to be the most auspicious.

The peony or mudan (牡丹) is the flower of riches and honour, romance and beauty. However, in Malaysia, we can only get the plastic ones to decorate our homes.


6. Azalea

Azalea is the symbol of happiness, harmony and balance in life. It is used to foster and strenghten relationships.


7. Four Seasons Citrus Lime Trees

The fruits look like gold nuggets. A pair of blooming lime trees are placed at doorways and living room to bring abundance, good luck and wealth for the coming year. In Malaysia, local nurseries have perfected the art of getting the plants to flower at precisely the right time so that during the New year, the fruits will ripen.

Two types of lime plants commonly used here for this purpose are the Calamansi lime (吉子) and kumquats (金吉). The chinese letter, "kat" - 吉 means auspicious. Calamansi in chinese carry the meaning 'little auspice' while kumquat means 'golden auspice'. This is a plant that has bloomed and is now bearing golden fruits. It is like saying that your efforts have brought excellent results. These are evergreen plants, so the words "Four Seasons" are cleverly added to signify everlasting auspice. Now, can you see why these citrus plants are so saleable during Chinese New Year?

I have written a post titled, "Calamansi, The Multi-Purpose Plant" on its off-season uses.


8. Pitcher Plant

The pitcher plant (Nepenthes) is zhu long cao (猪笼草) in Chinese, meaning "pig cage plant". Some people also call it 'Monkey Cups'. The pitchers are said to attract and accumulate all the good luck and fortune that the New Year brings. The more pitchers a plant has, the more luck and fortune you are likely to accumulate!

Update: To view more pictures of these plants, please visit Aaron's blog here.


9. The Crassula ovata or Jade Plant is a native of South Africa. Its emerald green succulent leaves look like jade, a precious stone highly valued by the Chinese for its many good attributes. This plant is regarded as a symbol of prosperity, continual growth , wealth and fortune. It can also be grown as an indoor bonsai. We regard this plant as a wealth or money plant.

These plants are placed near the entrances to restaurants to create success luck for the business. You may also find them at the cashier's counter. At home, we place them at the Southeast to energise money luck. Sometimes, other species of succulent cactuses are used as a substitude. Their thick leaves are loaded with water, so they are used to attract money and wealth luck. Water is frequently associated with money luck. However, cactuses with thorns are considered not auspicious as these thorns are like poison arrows.


10. ZZ Plant and Lucky Bamboo

The Zamioculcas zamiifolia or ZZ plant is native to Eastern Africa. It is also know as the money plant Jin Qian Shu (金钱树) or 'gold coin plant'. Its dark green juicy leaves are neatly arranged on opposite sides of a long petiole, therfore it looks like a string of ancient Chinese coins. Just like the jade plant, the ZZ plant is also used extensively in business shops, offices and homes to attract wealth luck. It is also commonly called the fortune plant in the west.

The Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is a native of the West African (Cameroon) rainforest. It can be bent and twisted into auspicious shapes, e.g. circles and figure of 8. It is used to bring prosperity, fortune and happiness. The plants in the picture above has been decorated with red ribbons and lucky ornaments.

New plants are given auspicous sounding names and constantly introduced into the market to attract more buyers and cash in on the festive occassion . For example, the pitcher plant N. ampullaria 'Brunei Red' was named "zhu long cao" which literally translates into "pig cage plant" in the Year of the Boar back in 2007. The above are only some examples of the many many auspicious plants we can buy or grow for this occassion.

My post today is dedicated to Di from the Pacific Northwest of Voice in the Garden blog. She has a lovely and interesting blog about gardening and beautiful scenery. Occassionally, she will include a good recipe and once in a while, she also gives tips and good advice on blogging.

This is my last post for January 2010. I will be taking a break from writing. The rest of the week will be spent visiting blogs and commenting to clear my backlog. My sincere apologies for not visiting as often as I'd like to. I hope you didn't fell asleep reading my strange stories here.

41 comments:

  1. Thank you Autumn Belle for this cheerful and educative post! Plum blossoms are gorgeous! I didn't know you had pussy willow there!

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  2. What a gorgeous bouquet of blossoms!
    I love colors of the azalea blooms also.
    Thank you for a wonderful posting Autumn.

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  3. That was a fascinating read -- far, far from boring. I had no idea there were different years, solar and lunar, and I love the customs of celebrating with different plants and flowers. I feel like I've just been given a free cultural lesson.

    My parents have a purple plum tree that blooms in very early spring in their back yard. My sister and I gave it to my mother almost 20 years ago for Mother's Day, and it now towers taller than the house. I was happy to read that this is auspicious for longevity... I want my parents to be around a long, long time. :)

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  4. What a feast of gorgeous colors on a winter's day. Quite a contrast to the snow outside my window. A lovely and interesting post.
    Sunny :)

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  5. i enjoyed and learned alot from your post today and this was great to understand what each plant symbolizes during the entire new year process....i guess i'll just have to have all those plants now lining my front door and not just the small jade plant :)

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  6. I am thoroughly enjoying this cultural lesson Autumn Belle. Those lime trees are stunning. Do you use the limes?

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  7. Generally, we buy our flowers with regard to their beauty and ability to thrive in our conditions rather than for their meaning. It's good to know the meanings of some favorites like azalea.

    I never thought about buying silk peonies, one of my favs that do not thrive in my growing conditions. I won't be putting them in the garden, but I can take them to the cemetery. Real peonies used to be the flower of choice on what we called 'Decoration Day.'

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  8. Interesting post, but sadly I have to say my Azalea is soon thrown away, wath does that say about my harmony in life, no balance at all? I just keep on forgetting to give it water and the respond is dry leafs on my table.. You monkey cups, brought me to smile. Such odd flowers, I just felt in love with them :)

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  9. That was fun! We have a row of jade plants at the washing lines, that we call the hedge fund. Now the name has a Chinese reason. Thank you.

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  10. Fall asleep? Impossible to do ... your post is fascinating! How wonderful to have a flower that symbolizes each aspect of your celebrations. And your spring arrives on February 4? Happy day!

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  11. What a great read Autumn Belle! Beautiful photos and once again I've learnt something new.
    I have a soft spot for plum blossoms, but sadly here we always seem to have a windy day just as they are reaching their peak!

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  12. Hi Autumn Belle - we sell alot of citrus and lucky bamboo for Chinese New Year here now after reading your post I know why!

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  13. awesome job!!! this was very interesting to read - particularly since I grew up knowing my Chinese family members enjoy these plants because they're "lucky", but being Chinese American, not really fully understandning why. I love that pitcher plant - never seen anything like it! What a great post and I can't believe you were able to find photos of all of these.

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  14. Tatyana, yes, we can have real pussy willows here. They are either imported from China or sourced from Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

    Lona, the plum blossoms in the picture are plastic ones. It is not easy to get real blooming ones here.

    Meredith, Heidi, How lucky you all are to have a real blooming plum blossom tree in your garden. I have never seen real plum blossoms. Are you going to share images of it soon? The plum blossoms and peony are 2 very special floral symbols of Chinese culture.

    Sunny, red is the predominant colour for Chinese New Year decorations. If you are here in Malaysia, maybe your eyes may suffer from ‘red over-exposure’.

    Chris, Noel, I have not included the lotus, narcissus, bromliads, pineapple, kumquats and many more. We have so many choice to buy and the vendors have so many sources of making money too. Haha!

    Helen, thank you very much for your early New Year wishes. These limes are actually the calamansi limes given an auspicious sounding name. I have many uses for the limes, e.g. in cooking and beauty care. However, I won’t use the limes from the tree that has been just bought from the nurseries now because I worry they may have been given too much chemical fertilizers or pesticides to force them to bloom and fruit.

    Nell Jean, you take the peony to the cemetery? I read from Wikipedia that Decoration Day is to remember and honour national heroes. Here we use it for a different purpose. In the east, the peony is China’s Queen of Flowers. It is a symbol of beauty, love and romance. I have never seen a real peony. Here’s some stories: Palace concubines used to decorate their rooms with beautiful peonies to keep the Emperor’s desire for them unabated. Families with marriageable daughters will display pictures or real peonies in the living room so that their daughter will get married soon. However, mature couples will not display the peony in their bedroom for fear the hubby will develop a rowing eye!

    Mia, you did the right thing. We will dispose off dying or dead plants and replace them with new ones. We believe this will get rid of negative yin energy and bring in the positive yang chi.

    Diana, yes! You sure are holding lots of wealth at your place. But remember not to place them at the toilets, W.C., washrooms and bedrooms.

    Pam, the day of Lap Chun on Feb 4th is considered the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. China is very much an agricultural country and they have a Hsia calendar based on the sun’s movement that is very accurate.

    Rosie, the citrus fruits and bamboo plants are as important as your Christmas trees, maybe almost a necessity in every celebrating household. That's why they are selling like hot cakes.

    Wendy, we believe that without flowers, there will be no formation of fruits. Therefore it is of utmost importance to have flowers and floral decorations as emblems of the reawakening of nature. After all, we do wish for happiness and prosperity during the coming year.

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  15. What a lovely post! I like all these Chinese New Year plants. I like to browse them at the nurseries and shops. It is interesting to see the pitcher plant become popular during CNY.

    Have a good break and hope all is going well for your preparation for the CNY celebration :-D

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  16. Oh my goodness! I certainly didn't fall asleep reading this post but instead found myself deeply grateful for our profoundly simple holidays in America. LOL I think the part that really did me in however was when you told us all the dead and dying plants had to be removed from sight. It's dead of winter here and my mind just went on overload with the very thought of clearing everything out. LOL I hope you have an absolutely marvelous time with your family and friends during your celebrations. It all sound so wonderful and beautiful!

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  17. Hi Autumn Belle, you have a lot of well-wishers but i will greet you exactly on Feb 14, also Valentine's day.

    I was stunned when i saw plum, coz i thought how can it be possible that short! Because i always read all the comments i saw from your reply that those are plastic, haha! When i first saw them in Sweden then in Turkey, i am really hooked because they are really very beautiful, both purples and whites. I even saw the endemic wild plums in the mountains of Turkey.

    Your citrus 'money tree' i saw inside the KL Butterfly Farm. We dont have them here yet. I thought also they only fruit in low temperatures. Here we commonly see a different 'money tree' i dont know its scientific name. But it also flower and fruit only in the higher elevation, like the Cameron. They fruit them there and bring to the lowland or Manila when readily in red bloom.

    I will miss your blog. Hopefully you will finish your works and blog soonest! Thanks for your advice and i replied via email.

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  18. wow. what a collection of flowers and the detailed write-up.

    I noticed that the vendor selling the lime trees for RM88.00 and in your pictures - ZZ plants in ceramic vases - its surely are very expensive.
    I just wondered what happened to all those lime trees sold every year - some how I find most of them missing.
    I mean - does anybody bring them back year after year from their gardens or buy them annually?

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  19. I would like to follow-up on what James said, what happens to all those lime trees after the Chinese New Year. I suppose the sellers sell different plants yearly. What about the growers, do these plants fruit again, or maybe they are destined to die so that a new plant will be bought again. I really wonder about the cultural management done on the plants also to force them to flower. I know wht happens to poinsettias but to lime trees, i wonder! thanks.

    Autumn Belle, now you have some homeworks to do! LOL.

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  20. I will certainly try to get a photo of our plum in flower before the wind blows the delicate little petals away for you Autumn Belle! But it will take a little patience as they won't be back in flower until August/September.

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  21. Stephanie, me too. I am always amazed at the creativity of these flower sellers in the decorations, names and new plants introduced.

    LeSan, Yes, the preparations and the whole process is actually quite tiring. Some of my friends even declutter the whole house every year before welcoming the big day! Many others are not so traditional and they take it easy, maybe they go for an overseas trip during this season.

    Andrea, you are right about the citrus production process. You are certainly one lucky gal, having seen real plum blossoms in 2 different colours too! I am now green with envy, haha! Yes, there are other types of money tree too. Even the pothos are regarded as money tree here.

    James, Andrea, regarding the citrus/lime fruit trees. There are many varieties. Those I photograph are sold at shopping centres at around RM 26.88 per pot but I don't buy them because they are 'programed' to last only for the season. I tried once and the plant was completely dead after CNY was over. The nurseries sell them at different prices, from RM 35.00 upwards for reasonable quality trees. Mine lasted 2-3 years. The more expensive ones like the one you saw at RM 88.00 are good quality ones. They continue to flower and fruit for a few years.

    If you look closely, you may be able to differentiate the fruits e.g. calamansi lime, kumquats, etc. Look at the shape of the fruits. It may be small and round like calamansi, bigger like an orange, or oval like the kumquats from China. Even the leaves are different. Some trees are 5-6 ft tall.

    Heidi, welcome back. Thank you for the good news. I can wait no matter how long. I have a picture of an embroidered plum blossom in my living room and lots of fake plum blossom stalks in my vases. My children learn to make plum blossom decorations in elementary school. We also use silk/plastic plum blossom flowers to decorate hampers and gifts.

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  22. James, I still have my 2 little lime trees in my garden. But I cannot get my lime tree to fruit 'abundantly' all over the plant like what you see on sale. So, I'll buy a fresh new tree for the OTT (Over the top) effect of good luck. See what I mean?

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  23. What if I have all these plants in my house, I shall be sure lucky in the Year of Tiger.

    Anyway, I have re-painted my house, changed the grasses, light-on the red tang-long..

    New Year is coming!!!

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  24. So many pretty blooms, I am anticipating the spring because it's such a beauty outdoors. =)

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  25. The pink flowers are so beautiful! I'm looking forward to go to Chinatown to absorb all these festivities.

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  26. All lovely plants bearing wishes of prosperity. May you prosper as the Chinese New Year draws near:))

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  27. Great post, and another interesting glimpse into your culture. I think pussy willows have a similar significance in our culture - they represent rejuvenation in spring and fertility. And the jade plant is called "Pfennigbaum" in German, i.e. "penny tree", so is also related at least in name to money. I always enjoy your posts - have a nice break!

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  28. I really love learning about different cultures and this post is fascinating. Thank you so much. One of the highlights of my life was spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong in 2005. It was spectacular.

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  29. Strange stories??? Not at all, Autumn Belle! We love learning about your land and culture, very much so. I know very little about the Chinese New Year but always check on the horoscope for my family members by their birthdays. I think I am a Tiger, so this should be a good year, hooray! We will miss seeing your informative and entertaining posts and await your return, eagerly. :-)
    Frances

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  30. Dear Autumn Belle, What an absolutely fascinating, and well illustrated, posting - also highly informative as I learnt much which I did not know before.

    Additionally, I do enjoy reading about other cultures and found your account of the Chinese New Year most interesting.

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  31. Autumn, I somehow missed reading this post earlier in the week, probably during my insanely busy days. So it was with huge delight that I read this and learned so much about plants that I know but didn't know about in terms of their history, and of course was introduced to a few plants I've never seen before. Always a pleasure to visit and learn from you.

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  32. Rainfield, you are surely very ready to greet the new year!

    Ayie, I wish that this spring brings you a cute bundle of joy too.

    Jama, I too can't wait to go to Chinatown for my dose of CNY feel. Hopefully, I have time to go there this year.

    Keats, thank you very much for your new year wishes.

    Babara, it's a pleasant surprise to know about the German name of the jade plant.

    Poetic Shutterbug, having been to Hong Kong, I'm sure you understand our obsession with auspicious symbolism in flowers, fruits and plants.

    Frances, wow, I think you share the same zodiac with Demi Moore, Tom Cruise, Megan Fox and Leonardo Di Caprio, all hot, sexy and charismatic people. Wow :P!

    Edith, Jodi. I'm really glad you like my stories.

    Thank you very much to everyone for visiting My Nice Garden :)

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  33. Hi AB~~ First, thank you for the ultra-kind words you left on my blog. They're very much appreciated. I enjoyed your post. Sometimes here in the US we don't give tradition much credence so it's good to see that it is alive and well in other cultures. Those PINK plum blossoms blew me away. Talk about wanting to jump into my computer screen. NICE.

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  34. What a very interesting and beautiful blog. I will be back often.

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  35. A wonderful post with so much information. Now I am viewing the Celosia which is very common here, with new eyes!

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  36. LOLz... For starters, I din't fall asleep reading your stories.... in fact I enjoyed every bit of the pictures n narration to go with it.

    I might have to come back and make notes from your lovely blog today. Loved the quote. When flowers Bloom, Prosperity Comes. Its so true...:) Thx for sharing!

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  37. Grace, Sunny, Lotus leaf, Ever Green Tree. Thank you very much for the visit and nice words :)

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  38. Hi Autumn Belle, May I know where can I get the Pussy Willows in KL?

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  39. Andrew, as I am aware, in KL, pussy willows are available everywhere - garden centres, Giant, Tesco, Ikea, all florist, flower streets and nurseries. This year they come in many colours (dyed).

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