The Legends of Korean Wildflowers
The sad secrets of natural beauties
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In the old days, people liked to imagine and make stories about the origin of natural objects, such as constellations, animals and plants. Korean ancestors also enjoyed creating tales about nature, and one of the most frequent themes was flowers. Koreans believed when a person dies with han, the feeling of sorrow and resentment, his or her spirit bloomes as a flower. That is the reason why there are such sad stories affiliated with wildflowers in Korea. This week, News H introduces the tales of Korean wildflowers of all four seasons.
The Korean 'granny' flower
The Korean pasque flower, named halmiggot in Korean which means ‘granny flower’, is a perennial plant blooming in winter to spring which has a burgundy-colored, bell-shaped bud. Its name is derived from its appearance, with a curvy stem pointing toward the ground and soft, white hairs covering the flower to its leaves, resembling an old lady.
There was a loving grandmother who raised three granddaughters due to the untimely death of their parents. She raised them with love and care, and as time passed, they all got married. The lonely old lady set out one winter day to visit each of them. However, she was neglected by the first and second granddaughters who married rich men, answering her visit with great disapproval. After being ousted from their houses, the old lady turned to visit the third granddaughter, who married a poor woodcutter. Her house was very far away, and the lady was cold and weak. The next day, the third granddaughter found her grandmother dead. She mourned for her grandmother and buried her near her house. A flower bloomed on her grave, which greatly resembled the old lady’s white hair and curved back, and the third granddaughter believed that her grandmother’s spirit came back and bloomed as the 'granny flower'.
Dandelion, a symbol of undying love
Dandelion, or mindlae, is a common spring flower worldwide, but there are special white and yellow dandelions that breed in Korea. The dandelion is a symbol of devoted love. In Koera, there exists the phrase ilpyundanshim mindlae, which stems from its legend of a young woman waiting for her husband during wartime.
A long time ago, there was a woman named Mindlae whose husband left to fight in war. She waited for him for three years, but heard the news that her husband died in battle. Mindlae followed her husband to death shortly after. The next spring, on the paths that she walked past while waiting for her husband, yellow flowers that nobody had seen before appeared. People thought they were the symbol of her spirit, and called the flowers mindlae after her name.
Lychnis, the tragic story of a baby monk
Lychnis, or lychniscognate, is a pretty orange flower that blooms in summer. It blossoms in a mountainside andis. Dongjaggot, meaning 'baby monk flower', originated from a legend of a young monk that lived in the mountains with an old monk.
A long time ago, two lonely monks, an old monk and a baby monk, were living in a small temple, depending on each other, in a deep forest. One early winter, the old monk had to leave the baby monk alone in the temple to go down the village to ask for donations to get through the winter. However, an early heavy snowfall blocked the way back to the temple. The old monk waited for the snow to melt with a heavy heart, but only could go back to the temple in the spring the year after. The old monk found the baby monk frozen to death while waiting. The devastated monk buried the baby, and the next summer, scarlet flowers that resembled the baby’s flush on his cheeks blossomed on the spot. People called the small orange blooms, dongjaggot, after the baby monk.
Aster, the story of a girl who picked mugworts
Aster is a lilac-colored autumn flower that resembles some species of chrysanthemum and is called ssukbujaengi in Korean. The name means mugwortpicker and the blacksmith’s daughter at the same time, indicating the heroine of the flower’s tale.
A long time ago, there was a very poor blacksmith, who had eleven children. The eldest daughter helped out, digging out mugworts for her siblings. So, the villagers called her Ssukbujaengi, or mugwort picker. One day, Ssukbujaengi found a wounded deer in the mountain where she picked mugworts. She took the deer and cured it gently. The deer was very thankful and promised to repay her kindness. On the same day, Ssukbujaengi found a man caught in a boar trap. She saved the man, and after a short talk, she became fond of him. The man promised to return that autumn. From that day, Ssukbujaengi waited for years but the man did not come, and her mother became ill.
Ssukbujaengi decided to pray to the mountain god for her mother, and suddenly the deer appeared, and gave her a purple pocket with three marbles in it. “Put the marble inside your mouth and say wishes out loud, then it will come true,” the deer said. She wished for her mother’s health, and she recovered instantly. Then she wished for the man to come back, and he appeared. However, he revealed that he was a married man, but asked her to live with him. Ssukbujaengi, thinking about his wife and son, wished for the man to return home. Years have passed, but she still could not forget the man and remained unmarried. And one day, while concentrating on picking herbs for her siblings, she tripped and was killed due to the fall. After her death, a lot of edible plants grew in the mountains and people called them ssukbujaengi. The plant had purple petals and was yellow inside, like the color of the pocket and marbles she carried around.
These flowers can easily be found in the wild in all seasons in Korea, drawing any bystander to appreciate their beauty and scent. While a flower symbolizes and implies emotions such as love, desire, or hope in many cultures, it is interesting to see that in Korea, there are rather sad stories of han behind flowers, adding special meanings to their ethereal grace.
Jang Soo-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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