There is a tree at the corner of an intersection I have to cross on my way to school. I often stand under it while waiting for the light to change. The leaves are as big as or bigger than my hand and quite beautiful, especially in the fall. The trunk is patchy and peeling. I have often wondered about the name of the tree and have sometimes asked Koreans, also waiting for the light, if they knew its name. They have always answered with "몰라요." Today, however, I picked up one of the big leaves lying on the ground and decided that I was going to find out the name the of tree.
I did a search on Google with the word "가로수" and found this page. Then I went to "Forrest Korea" and started looking up the trees on the list. I finally found the tree here. The Engish name of the tree is "sycamore." Here is a good picture of a leaf and the trunk of the tree.
Koreans imported the sycamore tree from the United States because they made good "roadside trees" (가로수) and are not easily affected by pollution. The Korean name for the sycamore is 양버즘나무, which means "Western ringworm tree." Koreans called it the ringworm tree because the peeling bark of the tree reminded them of the peeling skin on the shaved heads of the many Korean children who used to suffer from ringworm. Many Koreans, however, did not like referring to such a beautiful tree by such an ugly name and started to also call it 플라타너스, which is the Korean pronunciation of "Platanus," which comes from "Platanus occidentalis," the Latin name for the tree.
Having solved that mystery, I may finally be able to sleep soundly tonight.