Human Flower Project

Mighty Floozy: Rose of Sharon

Korea’s beloved national flower gets no respect in many parts of the U.S. Do you chalk it up to aesthetics, history or character?

imageKorean postage stamp of the national flower Mugunghwa, issued in 1993

Photo: Koreastamp

Though landscape designers work out of doors, they’re privy to their clients’ interior lives. One customer fantasizes a Roman empire on a quarter acre; another lives in terror of pink.

Years ago, we asked our landscape designing friend Mac Reid what his work as botanical confessor had taught him about flower snobbery, and Mac allowed that, yes, around Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, there was one definite plant non grata: the Rose of Sharon. (Hibiscus Syriacus L. ).

Too easy to grow? Too blowsy? Too, dare we say it—pink?

Those very qualities that made Rose of Sharon distasteful to Kentuckians strike people quite differently on the other side of the world. Mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon) is revered in South Korea, the national flower. And it will be in special evidence there today. Not only is this bloom season for mugunghwa, August 15 is a national holiday twice over, so the Korean emblem has sprung up all over Seoul.


Workers created a Rose of Sharon mural on Seoul’s city hall for Liberation Day, 2007

Photo: Han Jae-Ho, for Reuters

August 15 marks both 
Liberation Day, when Korea was freed from Japanese dominion, 1945, and the birthday of modern South Korea’s government, August 15, 1948.

Last year, Seoul city hall was decorated with 34,000 tiny plastic rose of sharon blooms to form a giant mural, visible nearly as far away as Pyongyang. This year, big sculpted blossoms flower at the Gyeongbokgung palace (dwarfing a passerby with his cart).


Mugunghwa drapes the exterior of the Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul

August 12, 2008.

There are some 200 cultivars of Hibiscus syriacus. Strictly speaking, Korea’s national flower is the Tanshim, a single blossom with a red center.

Some say that this emblem dates back to ancient times: “loved for many thousands of years by the Baedal people (the earliest name for Koreans) even before the beginning of the Tangun Dynasty, which is believed to be the founding kingdom of Korea.” Other sources date the Mugunghwa to the Yi (Choson) dynasty, 1392 – 1910.

In any case, the flower’s Korean name sweeps across the ages: Mugunghwa means “eternal flower.”

Kentuckians’ “can’t get rid of it” becomes “mighty survivor” in Korea.

“The Rose of Sharon is known to survive harsh environments,  and spreads out from its origin. This reflects Korean history and reflects Korean people’s survival through times of trials and sufferings; and this is embodied in Korea as an independent nation with a long history.”

For its toughness and respectability, mugunghwa is a name bestowed on Korean high-speed trains and even football teams. (The day that a football team in Kentucky takes a floral name we will send Mac Brown two dozen burnt orange roses.)

This fast growing, hardy perennial even springs up in the Korean national anthem, Aegukga composed 1896.

A thousand miles of splendid rivers and mountains, filled with mugunghwa—

Great Korean People, stay true to the Great Korean way.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/14 at 10:56 PM


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