Viewing the Beautiful Cherry Blossoms
From April 12th to the 18th is Seoul’s yearly cherry blossom festival in Yoido. I went to Yoido to take a look at the beautiful cherry blossoms. While I was there I also got to taste the street food and see some performances in Yoido Park! Come with me and learn about the cherry blossoms!
Starting at the end of March and running through May it is cherry blossom season here in South Korea! There are many festivals all over the country, but in Seoul, the most famous cherry blossom festival takes place in Yoido (Yo-ee-do). Can you find Yoido on a map of Korea? It might be a little difficult since it is pretty small. Yoido is actually an island on the south side of the Han River, and it is connected to the rest of Seoul by bridges! According to Korea’s tourism website, there are 1,400 cherry trees lining the street alongside South Korea’s National Assembly building in Yoido Park. This year the festival is taking place from April 12th through the 18th. During the festival visitors can participate in many activities in Yoido Park, such as bike riding and roller-skating. There are live performances and many stalls selling tasty snacks like chicken barbequed on a stick, corn dogs, corn on the cob and a variety of fresh fruit. Many people head to the park to picnic under the cherry trees!
What does it look like?
There are a few different types of cherry trees in Korea. One of the most prominent varieties can be found in both Korea and Japan. In 1910 Japan donated 2,000 of these cherry trees to the United States, so these trees can also be found in Washington D.C.! The cherry blossoms that I have seen here range from white to light pink and have five petals. The trees themselves are dark in color, and can grow as tall as 45 feet according to the United State’s Forest Service. That’s like stacking Shaquille O’Neil on top of himself seven times! The trees are very pretty, or no-moo yeh-po, as they say in Korean.
How did I feel?
In Korea, the cherry blossom festivals celebrate the coming of spring after the cold, gray winter. This winter has been especially long this year, and it is uplifting to see the color of the cherry blossoms as I walk the streets of Seoul! Back home there are many trees and flowers that start to bloom in the spring, just like here in Korea. It reminds me of home every time I see all of the gorgeous flowers. In Korean the word for flower is goht (꽃) and the word for cherry blossoms is boht goht (벚꽃). Spring flowers are called bom goht (봄꽃), which literally means spring flower. There are a few bom goht in bloom right now, and my campus is awash in yellow, purple and green! It is very pretty, no-moo yeh-po. I cheer up every time I see how beautiful it is!
Where do these grow?
The cherry trees, or boht goht, grow all over South Korea! They also grow in Japan, China, and North America. Cherry trees grow well in what are known as temperate zones. The temperature in these zones does not often go above 90 degrees Fahrenheit or below negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit. These zones also have all four seasons: summer, fall, winter and spring.
People are not exactly sure where these trees originated. The cherry trees in Korea appear to be a cross between a Japanese cherry tree and a Korean cherry tree, though it is not clear if the tree was originally from Japan or Korea. David, one of my tour guides while I was in Seoul, told me that the cherry tree was originally from Korea. According to him, the tree was exported to Japan, where it was bred with the Japanese cherry trees to create the trees that we have in Korea now.
Depending on where the cherry trees are growing on the Korean peninsula they blossom earlier or later. In the south of Korea, on Jeju-do or Jeju Island, they blossomed last week since the temperature was warmer than in Seoul. Most of the trees in Seoul line the sidewalks, or are planted in different parks such as Yoido Park.
How does it use its environment?
Just like other plants, the boht goht, or cherry tree, depends on the water, soil and sunlight to grow and live. According to the United State’s Forest Service, the cherry tree can become dehydrated easily, so it should be planted in moist environments so that it does not die. It also needs sunlight from all sides or it blossoms unevenly. The Forest Service advises that the trees should not be planted near roads where they face the risk of dehydration. However, many of the trees I see in Seoul are planted along the roadside and they seem to be doing fine.
The flowers are very dependent on the temperature to bloom. The trees in Seoul are actually blooming late because the temperature has been colder than normal. A few weeks ago the weather was unusually warm, so the trees started to produce buds. Then we had a cold snap and now many of the trees are not blooming. Sadly, there are not as many cherry trees in bloom at this time as there were in past years.
Some scientists have actually begun to study the effects of climate change on the flowers. In the past, people knew exactly when the trees would bloom, because they always bloomed at a set time. However, with the changing of the climate it is harder to know when they will bloom. I can see this effect this year. It seems the festival was scheduled a week earlier than the trees are blooming!
Are they in danger?
The cherry tree can be threatened by different insects that damage the trees, the leaves or the flowers. However, these threats do not seem to be too serious, and the tree is not in danger of extinction. The largest threat to the tree in recent history has been the human being! This threat exists because of Korea’s history with Japan. It is a complicated history that is very emotional for many Koreans, especially if they are older.
In 1910 Japan took over the rule of Korea against the will of most Koreans. During this time, Japan tried to erase much of Korea’s culture by replacing it with Japanese culture. The cherry blossom is very important in Japanese culture where it represents the cycle of life and death. As part of their effort to make Korea more Japanese, the Japanese government planted many Japanese cherry trees in important places in Korea. They planted them at historical sites like ancient palaces.
With the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese occupation of Korea also ended. At this time, Korea began to erase as much of the Japanese influence as they could. According to an article by Hannah Kim writing for the Korea Times, some the cherry trees were cut down at Gyohng-bok Palace, because they reminded people of the hardships they faced during the occupation. Though they remind some of the older generation of this difficult time, they are also a strong symbol of spring, and many people go to the festivals to see the flowers in bloom.