“Hongkong Orchid Tree Flower Is Colony Emblem,” ran the headline in the South China Morning Post 52 years ago this week, on January 20, 1965. “The Bauhinia blakeana – a flower which blooms profusely in the winter – has been selected as the flower emblem of Hongkong.”
First mention of the search for the colony’s floral insignia had come on February 4, 1964, when the Post noted that a question would be asked in that day’s meeting of the Urban Council about the selection of a local flower to be used in the overseas promotion of Hong Kong.
“The Bauhinia blakeana was selected from a list of 13 species of locally grown flowers,” the later report continued. “The origin of the Hongkong Orchid Tree is still not known. It was first discovered near the ruins of a house on the seashore in 1906 by the Fathers of the French mission at Pokfulam and was named after Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Hongkong from 1898 to 1903, who was a keen botanist.”
An editorial in the Post on the same day suggested the choice was to be welcomed “if for no other reason than it was unanimously agreed by the entire Urban Council”.
The commentator went on: “The strongest claim that the Bauhinia has is that botanists regard it as one of the finest of this particular genus anywhere in the world,” adding it was “typical of Hongkong in another respect in that it was a hybrid, symbolic of the way in which the Colony itself originated and from which it continues to draw its strength and vitality”.
Announcing official approval of the Urban Council’s choice, a government spokesman pointed out, however, that “the armorial bearings granted by the Queen in 1959 still remained the official emblem of Hongkong and would not be affected by the proposal of a flower emblem to represent the colony”.
It would, of course, be 1997 before the Bauhinia blakeana appeared on Hong Kong’s coat of arms, its flag and its coins.