Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What's the most popular Korean shade tree?

In Korean, a "shade tree" is called a 정자나무. The 정자 is the same 정자(亭子) used to mean "pavilion," which is a covered outdoor structure that people relax under. Since people also like to relax under shade trees, 정자나무 seems like the perfect name for "shade tree."

Here are some Korean shade trees:

Can you guess which of the above shade trees is the most popular in Korea? Well, among the four, the 느티나무 (zelkova tree) is, by far, the most popular. In fact, I have read that 80 percent of the shade trees in Korea are 느티나무.

Traditionally, Korean villages have one or two huge shade trees at their entrances, and the 느티나무 seems to be the most popular. These trees act as a kind of outdoor gathering place for the people of the village, which means the trees play an important part in their lives, or, at least, they used to.

I have also heard that, in the past, Korean villagers would often keep a store of rocks under the village shade tree, so that they could be used to defend the village from attack. The village tree was a good place to keep the rocks because the tree was near the entrance of the village and because the spirit of the tree could bless the rocks, which would help make sure the rocks hit their targets.

The 느티나무 is mentioned a great deal in Korean literature, which is not surprising since it has played such a prominent role in the lives of many Koreans. Even Koreans who have grown up in the city know about 느티나무 because most probably have relatives who still live in small villages in the countryside.

The reason I have posted on 느티나무 today is not only that it is an important part of Korean culture, but also that it was mentioned in this story on the Korean Lab Web site.

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