A day before Chinese New Year’s celebrations begin, vendors hawking tall, budding Angkea sil branches clogged the streets near Olympic Stadium.
They beckoned to passers-by, in a hurry to get rid of their bundles of the yellow flower before New Year’s Eve.
“I have sold more than five branches today,” said Oum Sok Chea, noting that business was brisk. But, he said, “Tomorrow, no one will buy” and the branches will be discarded.
According to tradition, the Angkea sil branches can tell one’s fortune for the upcoming year. The number of buds that bloom this morning, the first day of Chinese New Year’s celebrations, indicate how prosperous the new year will be, said Doeun Hin, 55, who was shopping for a lucky branch.
The more blossoms, the better, Doeun Hin said. But if the buds bloom too early or too late, the year will not be a good one, he said.
“This last year, business was not so good,” said Doeun Hin, recalling that his taxi service did not see many customers. Then again, he said, his Angkea sil branch didn’t bloom until the second day of New Year’s celebrations.
Along Olympic Stadium, Angkea sil branches ranged from less than a dollar for small bundles to more than $60 for entire trees.
The lucrative business has lured people like farmer Vet Ven, 28, into the seasonal job of harvesting the plants, which grow naturally in the mountains of Koh Kong, Pursat and Kompong Speu provinces.
Vet Ven said over the past week, he has been getting up at dawn to climb the mountain near his village in Koh Kong’s Kompong Seila district. Each day, he has cut two to three Angkea sil trees, he said.
He said he chops down the entire tree if it sprouts many buds; otherwise, he cuts only the branches. This year, he said, he has chopped about 20 trees, which he sold to vendors in Phnom Penh for about $60.
But, Vet Ven said, he is concerned about how long this extra source of income will last.
“If we continue to cut year by year, I’m afraid it will run out in the forest,” he said, adding that many of his fellow villagers have also joined the harvest. “The trees need at least three years to grow back.”
Huoth Thoung, director of Koh Kong’s provincial agriculture department, however, said the harvest of Angkea sil poses no problem. Contrary to Vet Ven’s claims, Huoth Thoung said the trees are plentiful and in no danger of becoming scarce.
“The Angkea sil flower cannot be extinct because the people cut branches, not the whole tree,” he said. “This kind of tree has helped the people who live near the mountain make a lot of money during the Chinese New Year.”
Back near Olympic Stadium, Wang Xie Lang, 30, said she buys a branch for her home every year. But, she said, this year’s harvest has been poor. She cannot find a branch with an adequate number of near-blossoming buds, one that will beautify her house and bring her good luck.
Looking around at the hundreds of Angkea sil branches and trees, she said, “These flowers are no good.”