One of my favorite moments in Lord of the Rings Return of the King movie is when the blasted, dead tree of Gondor sprouts one small white flower, unseen by everyone (except we the Audience), in recognition of the return of Aragorn to the city.
There’s a real life parallel – maybe – in the Udumbara flower of Southeast Asia, said to bloom only once every 3,000 years. This occasion is supposed to mark the arrival of a future king. A recent story about this tiny white flower caught my eye because my Tales of the Nile series of novels is set about 3000 years ago.
According to Buddhist scriptures, when the Udumbara flower – Sanskrit for “auspicious flower from heaven” – blossoms, it’s a sign of the arrival of a King Who Turns the Wheel, rectifying the Dharma (behaviors necessary for the natural orders of things) in the world. Apparently the true Udumbara blossom is a celestial flower, nonexistent in the mundane world. If a King of the Golden Wheel appears in the human world, this flower will also appear due to his great virtue and blessings. Hmm, wonder if Tolkien had heard this story?
In the past two decades, people around the world have encountered a flower that is believed to be the Udumbara. The blooms were first found in Korea in 1997. Later, some appeared in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and America. It has been found to grow on other plants, metal, and Buddha statues. Of course, the modern world being what it is, full of skeptics and science, a number of the Udumbara sightings were eventually written off as actually being the larvae of lacewing bugs. Bummer. But enough of the incidents remained unexplained to leave wiggle room that maybe something mystical was occurring. Your choice which to believe!
A plant blooming every 3,000 years does seem like a stretch but then again, there are marvels aplenty in the plant world. Many plants bloom only once in their lifetime, like the Talipot palm for example, which does so once every 30 to 80 years. The Kurinji plant blooms once every 12 years, and the Titan arum lily flowers every few decades in the wild and even more rarely in cultivation. Which may be a blessing since its ten foot tall, single flower smells so bad, the common name for it is “carrion flower”. Definitely not the plant you’d want heralding the arrival of any Golden Kings. Or the arrival of Aragorn to save the day!
My favorite flowers are still roses and iris, which don’t signify the arrival of anything except Spring, I guess. What’s your favorite bloom?