Lecture Video: The Korean Red Pine: a companion from cradle to grave

Despite the ecological and landscape importance and the public popularity of conifers, especially in the case of the Korean red pine (Pinus densiflora S & Z) or Sonamu in Korean, not much scientific and cultural information related to this familiar conifer is available. At present, red pine forest occupies 22.7 percent of the total Korean forest are, 1,447,439 square kilometers in extent. It is not merely a conifer that occurs on the mountains. The Korean red pine tree has long been regarded as a vital link between nature and people from the cradle to the grave in the Korean context, and Korean culture is often known as the Pine Tree Culture in comparison with the Oak culture of Europe.

The Korean red pine tree has been a dominant plant species for a long period of time, and has served as the key tree species maintaining ecosystems and landscapes, as well as being an important tree with respect to culture and the local economy. The Korean red pine has provided a wide range of seasonal produce required for the daily life of the common people, including foodstuff, firewood, tools, timber for shelter and coffins, especially when the country was in absolute poverty. The Korean red pine tree had a great impact on people’s everyday life. It is also well-known for its popularity in traditional painting as one of the ten longevity symbols, and is also regarded as a symbol of fidelity, loyalty and eternity, along with bamboos.

The pine tree has been in existence in the Korean peninsula since the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era. Data from 1454 to 1931 have been obtained from seven historical documents and used to interpret the history of the Korean red pine. Historical records for conifers mainly contain descriptions of its use for timber, pine boards for royal coffins, diverse by-products, such as pine resin, pine mushrooms, seeds, and medicinal items. In recent years the Korean red pine has encountered a series of ecological challenges, such as cutting, forest fire, insect outbreak, regional development, and climate change.

Woo-seok Kong is a Professor of Biogeography in Kyung Hee University, Seoul. He is author of The Plant Geography of Korea (1993, Kluwer Academic Publisher), and several Korean books such as Conifer Science (2016, Geobook), Climate Change and Ecosystem (2012, Geobook), Biogeography and Ecology of Korean Plants (2007, Geobook), Ecosystem of DPRK (North Korea) (2006, Jipmundang), and Vegetation History of the Korean Peninsula (Acanet, 2003).

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