Eui-Sun Jung, CC BY-SA 2.0
Eui-Sun Jung, CC BY-SA 2.0
General Description / Cultural Significance
South Korea consists of the mountainous Korean peninsula and surrounding islands and the deeply loved Mugunghwa (Hibiscus syriacus) blooms throughout the country in August.
The global power city index cites its capital city, Seoul, as the world’s sixth leading global city. Over half of the country’s population lives in high rises near the capital. Yet, Seoul’s residents have likened their city to a concrete forest, devoid of emotional fulfillment. It has been described as having high pollution levels, uncommunicative architectural designs, and a lack of traditional ambiance. Koreans, perhaps more than most countries, have been grappling with the idea of the importance of identity and place and maintaining cultural ties.
The Mugunghwa, an express train built to accommodate large numbers of passengers, connects the country, as does its namesake, the national flower of South Korea. Known in English as the Rose of Sharon, it is a flower that has had a strong presence throughout South Korea’s history. The Silla Kingdom called itself the “Country of Mugunghwa,” a name that stuck until the Goryea dynasty. In South Korea’s national anthem, the flower is said to fill the mountains.
The flower was first cited in Korean texts around 1400 years ago. Today, the Mugunghwa “is thought to be deeply associated with what is regarded as the most typical Korean characteristics: a sincere heart, inwardness, and tenacity… The Korean word Mugunghwa literally means never-withering flower.” This hardiness or immortality has manifested itself in its ability to survive in harsh environments. In this way, it is said to reflect Korean history and the resilience of the country’s people.
The shrub, which grows upwards to 13 feet in height, produces large, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow-topped white stamens. “There are about 100 cultivars of mugunghwa indigenous to Korea but it is understood that the correct cultivar should be the Tashim sub-species, single pink blossom with the red center as the national flower.”
During the Japanese occupation, many mugunghwa plants were cut down due to their symbolic strength for the people of Korea. Plants in the country survived, but the symbolic plant was disparaged. It was said that simply touching the plant would bring about boils and eye disease.
Though this five-petaled flower has remained in the hearts of Koreans, present in many names and emblems, the country is now working to reconnect botanically with this culturally significant flower that once filled the landscape. There seems to be a wish to be known again the way the ancient Chinese once thought of them– as the “land of wise men where the mugunghwa blooms”.
The flower has been present and famous in the country for millennia. Besides existing in the wild, it is planted in gardens throughout the cities. It continues to be used in a pleasantly scented herbal tea to alleviate thirst related to colon conditions and to aid in restless sleep; it is also eaten raw and has great antioxidant properties. Essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the Rose of Sharon. It has a honey scent that is both uplifting and calming and is used for mediating and supporting the respiratory system.
In 2015, South Korea celebrated its 70th Liberation Day. It was commemorated with a book on the mugunghwa. Besides featuring 153 species of the flower, it was brought to people’s attention that, as many organisms become extinct, an effort will be needed to prevent the mugunghwa’s extinction. Possibly the most pressing environmental problem in Korea is air pollution: people have cut down most of the forests, except for some that still exist in the mountainous area.
Climate Change / Conservation Status
South Korea is one of the fastest-growing emitters of climate-altering gases. A 2011 study listed it as number 8 in emissions of carbon dioxide, and the country’s per capita energy use is expected to be more than the US by 2035. South Korea is already experiencing major impacts of climate change, including a rise in annual precipitation, a doubling of rainfall intensity since the 1970s, an increase in the spread of disease, and an exponential growth in mortality due to heat waves.
Luckily, the national flower of Korea, the Hibiscus syriacus, cannot only endure air pollution, heat, and drought but also improve air quality. Cutting-edge research of the plant’s genome and additional studies of its bio-capacity are finding its root to be invested with antifungal properties, and the flower’s absolute has been confirmed to have excellent wound-healing effects. One recent study using an extract of the plant’s compounds found it effective against lung cancer cells.
Rose of Sharon
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