A Story of Jeju’s Trees Growing on Oreum Part 1

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Special Report – A Story of Jeju’s Trees Growing on Oreum Part 1
Date of report: September 30, 2016
Culture reporter: O Yeon-suk

The sweltering heat finally retreated, and autumn took a sudden step over the threshold. With the recent chill early in the morning, oreum are also visited by cool breezes. Jeju has over 360 parasitic volcanic cones, which are referred to as oreum in the local term. They are the first to deliver spring messages and the last to turn red and yellow. Jeju, though a small island, is valued as the southernmost province of Korea, with the nation’s highest mountain M. Halla towering over the island like a shield.

By this time of the year, flowers are the rarest to see. Hiking an oreum, I felt amused with the subtle fragrance of some flowers. What would it be coming from? It is the scent of Harlequin glorybower that lasts on the seasonal passage. Having few blossoms left dangling, the sacks of fortune firmly closed their smouths with their red petals embracing the ripening fruit inside.

Harlequin glorybower, also known by its academic name Clerodendrum trichotomum, is a tree with three sprises. First, a visitor flaring his nose to smell the scent of the flowers is surprised by the scent of the rubbed leaves. The smell resembles the foul one from burnt meat, which is called ‘nurinnae’ in the local term. This gave the tree a nickname, ‘Nurinjang Namu’ (a tree with ‘nurinnae’). Another visitor says that the smell reminds him of ‘Wongiso’ (a popular nutrient in my childhood), loving the nostalgic tree. Still, I have difficulties making friends with it.

The second surprise comes from the way it blossoms. A calyx, which is often misunderstood as a petal, grows in groups first, growing a small ball-like petal into a stick. “Wow, the flowers are double-flowered!” Only after a moment of wonder, the stigma stretches itself out of the ball heading downward, and four stamens rise toward the sky. The petals are then magically divided into five pieces like a pinwheel. Four splendid stamens and one pistil crane their necks haughtily. At this point, you can peek at the wisdom of the tree: a strategy to draw superior genes for pollination. This means that a blossom opens the cover of its pistil only after its stamens have fallen so that its neighboring male blossoms can pollinate. Learning this, visitors nod their heads to agree that it is a wise tree that spreading healthier breeds.

The third surprise is due to the way the fruits ripen. The fruits grow as if forgotten within the closed mouth of the calyx, revealing their sky-blue appearances under the blue sky. Ripening the daily-prepared energy of nature, the tree maturates them into dark-reddish green fruits. The 1-carat jewels glitter with the sun! You will be enchanted by their fashionable charm that can even make beads for a necklace when picked.

Clerodendrum trichotomum belongs to the Clerodendrum genus, Verbenaceae family. It has other Korean names, including Gae Namu, Guritdae Namu, and Gurinnae Namu, with a variety of use. When young, the leaves are eaten as vegetables. The Korean traditional medicine calls it ‘chiodong’, a medicinal herb good for blood pressure, pain, and sedation. The tree itself and its fruits are also used to make dye. This makes some people be surprised more than three times. Just as the extract of iris for the dazzling blue of the autumn sky, the tree has the blue pigment called trichotomine, making a good source for dyeing. Depending on the mordant, it can come out with light blue, soft greenish blue, and even dark blue.

Its flower is known to mean ‘pure love’ which is based on a heartbreaking story: a love story between a noble girl and a bucher’s son, with their social classes as distant as those of Cinderella and the Prince Charming. I expect to hear the story of their failed love and see the jewel-like fruits once again in the wake of autumn. How about joining me in visiting the tree growing in the autumn forest of Jeju?