Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Look at the Pines

The pines is one of the 싶장생 (10 eternal symbols according to ancient Chinese tradition), and as such are well-known in Korea for their strength and longevity. They are an acclaimed flora and are even marketing in pine-needle tea and carbonated drinks, used to flavor rice cakes and in other traditional culinary creations.

Korea has several kinds of pine (please forgive the Korean without translation - many of these simply translate as "pine" in my dictionary; it seems species and flora variation aren't normally entered):
2 needle type: 적송 (red pine), 해송 (black pine)
3 needle type: 리기다소나무 (?), 테에다 소나무 (?), 백송 (white pine)
5 needle type: 잣나무 (big cone or Korean white pine), 섬잣나무 (island white pine?), 스트로브잣나무 (strobe white pine)
And the pines have been typed according to their location within the provinces of Korea. Types vary by height, branch expanse, number of needles, straightness and bark.

The Namsan slopes have been designated as a Pine Habitat Conservation Zone, but Korean history is rich in protecting this tree in and around Seoul. As early as 1034 (the 1st year of King Jeongjong's reign) in the Goryeo Dynasty, the government placed a ban on felling pines in Seoul. In 1411 (the 11th year of the reign of King Taejong) in the Chosun Dynasty, the Annals of King Taejong record 3000 men from Gyeongido planting trees for 20 days. In 1467 King Sejo (13th year of his reign) prohibited unauthorized pine destruction and assigned mountain patrols on Namsan. In 1765 (the 41st reigning year of King Yeongjo) a decree was issued prohibiting the cutting of pines within a 24-mile radius of Seoul. Unfortunately for the long protected pine forests, during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War huge swaths of forest were decimated. The Seoul Metropolitan Government initiated a plan in 1991 to 2001 to conserve the pines on Namsan for future generations and so 18,300 pines were transported and planted on the mountain slopes.

Unfortunately, even though the Seoul Government is endeavoring to preserve the pines for the future, global warming is threatening their existence. According to environmental reports, the temperature in Seoul has risen 15 degrees Celsius since the Korean War. Seoul is a major heat island but the temperature outside of Seoul has risen probably 9 degrees Celsius since the war. The rising temperature is threatening the cooler-weather-loving pines. It is said that if the temp climbs 2 degrees Celsius more, the very existence of the pines at sea level will likely be defunct. Already there are fewer pines due to the environmental change while the warmer-weather-loving popular is thriving and spreading.

Pines have traditionally been so highly regarded that they were even lauded in the Korean National Anthem: "Eternally Namsan's pines stand like armor, through whatever tempest or storm, as our symbol of strength". With such associations through national music which entertwines the age-old concepts of pines perpetuating strength and longevity, the pine come to exemplify the strong spirit of the Korean people and their 5000-year history ... but will the pine perpetuate? and exemplify its strength and longevity continually on the Namsan slopes?


  1. some significant data here

  2. Was at the traditional herbal museum in Chegi-dong today and one of the 760 or so identified herbal medicines is a giant (somewhat larger than brain-size) nutlike object found in the soil deep below the pine tree. It is dug up, scraped and processed as an expectant for alleviating colds and coughs and probably many other ailments.

    Also read in a book that the pine and the bamboo are very propitious for ancestor venerations and propitiating the house gods. I knew about the bamboo being propitious, but also the pine is ... probably because much of the wood to build the house likely comes from the pine, example being the stout support poles to support the heavy roof.