Flower fragrances are especially adored by the Balinese and their gods. Fresh flowers are required offerings in almost all temple rituals and ceremonies, a way of providing a pleasing environment for spirits and ancestors during their frequent visits to Earth.
The Balinese also use flowers to decorate themselves. Statues of gods and goddesses are adorned with flowers. Legong dancers wear crowns of blossoms. each time a Balinese prays s/he holds a flower between the fingers. Before a 'bemo' driver sets out for the day his wife or daughter prepares for him a floral offering, or 'canang'.
The majority of the delightful flowers you see are not native to Bali but have been introduced from around the world, either imported in recent years or centuries ago by Indian or Arab traders. With the Chinese grafting everything and people bringing plants back and forth from Hawaii, it's difficult to tell anymore what's native to Bali and what's not.
The variety is astounding: the hardy, colorful bougainvillea (bunga kertas), climbing over walls and balconies; the common gardenia (jempiring) and hydrangea (pacah seribu); poinsettias; the rose (maya); the spiked 'tumbak raja'; the star-shaped, lavender 'manori'; the jasmine (menuh), a symbol of holiness; the common marigold (mitir).
The 'malu-malu', a sort of creeping mimosa, is known as the "sensitive plant" because its leaves fold compactly at the slightest touch-thus its Balinese name, meaning "shy." The trumpet-shaped red or orange hibiscus (pucuk), which adorns the ears of temple statues, comes in all shapes and sizes.
The large-leafed, floating water lily or lotus (Nelubium nelumbo) can be detected from a distance because of its fragrant smell and beautiful colors. The Balinese believe it to be the flower of the goddesses in heaven; this aqueous plant has a high religious value on Bali and is also used as a traditional medicine.
There's a great variety of flowering trees and shrubs: the acacia; ornamental 'kenyeri' (oleanders); the bright orange African tulip trees; the spectacular flame tree 'merak'; the pure white 'cempaka', a large type of magnolia, with a strong long-lasting delicious fragrance; clusters of sweet-smelling white, pink, and red frangipani (bungan jepun) blossoms; the stunning flamboyant (flamboyan); the Singapore rhododendron; the bright orange 'dadap', used in cremation processions; the 'datura' or "Handkerchief Tree" with its drooping white or pink flowers; the firecracker hibiscus; the 'kecubung', 'kedukduk', 'sabita' - the list goes on.
The best place to see flowers is in the front yards and living fences of private homes; ask the proprietor or concierge to take you on a botanical tour of your hotel or homestay garden. The Nusa Dua hotels and Hotel Tanjung Sari and the Bali Hyatt in Sanur are famous for their brilliant year-round floral displays.
Village markets all have flower stalls that sell flowers for offerings. Also visit the big nurseries of Niti Mandala, near Renon, in East Denpasar. The Lila Graha Botanical Gardens in Candikuning offers a well-presented collection of orchids and exotics. Behind the Candikuning market are dozens of stalls selling such dazzling flowers as gardenias, roses, canna lilies, heliconia, marigolds, and cock's combs at very good prices. The grounds of the Bali Handara Country Club, also in the Bedugul area, are definitely worth visiting.
By the side of the road from Mengwi up to Candikuning flowers grow everywhere. Also visit the orchid nursery near Blahbatuh in Gianyar Regency; commercial orchid nurseries are also found on the road from Denpasar to Sanur.
If you can find it in a hotel or supermarket bookstore, get a copy of Fred and Margaret Eiseman's well-researched Flowers of Bali containing 35 color photos of Bali's native flowers. In 1995, Thames and Hudson published Balinese Gardens, written by William Warren, Adrian Vickers, and Anthony Whitten, with photographs by Luca Invernezzi Tettoni, which beautifully illustrates numerous examples of contemporary and traditional Bali gardens.
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