1997 Expedition to South Korea
9/25 to 10/17 1997
by Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery
Our goal was to explore and bring back new plants or plants in short supply from Korea that have potential ornamental value in the United States, with a strong emphasis on perennials. There must be clear indication that the plants brought into the US have no inclination to become potential invasive pests. All plant specimens are to be clearly documented as to collection location, habitat, etc. via the use of GPS (Global Positioning System). Only seed and plant samples are to be taken, and in no instances will a wild population be decimated. It is our goal that these plants be evaluated as needed, then quickly as appropriate be introduced into the US horticultural trade.
Compared to other countries, horticultural collecting expeditions in Korea have been quite rare. The following is a summary of such known expeditions.
- 1854 Schilppenbach
- 1905 Jack
- 1917 1919 E.H. Wilson
- 1966 Corbet, D. Lighty
- 1977 S. Spongberg, D. Weaver
- 1979, 1981 P. Meyer
- 1982 B. Yinger
- 1984 B. Yinger, S. March, D. Apps
- 1985 B. Yinger, T. Dudley, JC Raulston
- 1991 D. Hinkley, B.S. Wynn Jones
In 1985, Dr. JC Raulston accompanied Barry Yinger, and the late Dr. Ted Dudley of the US National Arboretum on the first of 7 proposed collecting trips into much of the horticulturally unexplored regions of South Korea. This first trip from August to November of 1985 concentrated on the West coast, and the islands off the southwest corner of the mainland. Due to political complications, the remaining 6 proposed expeditions were cancelled.
Our expedition was designed to quickly traverse the mainland, along with at least two of the main islands, Cheju and Ullung.
Our exploration group consisted of the following:
- Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanic Gardens in Raleigh NC
- Dan Hinkley, Heronswood Nursery in Kingston WA
- Darrell Probst, epimedium and tricyrtis breeder in Hubbardston, MA
- Bleddyn Wynn Jones, Crug Farm in Wales Sue Wynn Jones, Crug Farm in Wales
- Song Ki Hun, Head of Plant Collections at Chollipo Arboretum in Chollipo, Korea
NOTE: Plants and seed are now growing under evaluation, and will be made available as soon as they are evaluated/produced as needed. Specific questions about certain plants can be answered by writing to us at the address at the top of the document. Thank you for your interest.
I departed Raleigh Durham on an early morning September 25 en route to Seattle. Here, I met the other two Americans on our trip, Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Nursery and Darrell Probst of Boston. By 2pm, we were on the plane to Korea, via Tokyo. After a relatively smooth flight, we arrived in Tokyo at the Norita airport. We then faced only a short 2.5 hr flight into Seoul.
We arrived in Seoul at 10pm, making quick forays through customs and immigration. Our hotel for the night was to be the Airport Tourist Hotel, only a short 5 minute ride via shuttle from the airport. At 73,000 yuan per room this was to be the nicest and by far the most expensive hotel for the trip. After all, they had all the amenities, air conditioning, shower curtains, and best of all...beds!
Arising early the next morning, we again took the shuttle back to the airport to pick up our rental van, which was indeed a chore as the rental agent spoke only broken English. With van in hand, we had only to wait for our other participants to arrive, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn Jones of Wales. By 9:30am, we had assembled the group, become acquainted and headed south for our trip to the Chollipo Arboretum. Bleddyn offered to be our designated driver for the trip, since as Sue put it..."he makes a terrible passenger." I can only tell you that if Bleddyn ever gets tired of the nursery business, he will make a great race car driver.
If you've ever tried to drive in Seoul, then you can imagine what I mean when I say that we got really really lost. In fact, we turned the 4 hr drive to Chollipo into an adventurous 7 hr trek. Thank goodness the road signs were printed both in Korean and English. It's too bad however that the signs didn't always match our maps.
We encountered our first and only rain storm during our drive, which would have certainly been our choice. Without a guide to help with menu selections, we stopped for our first meal at a local restaurant and sampled Korean cuisine. I'm still not sure what we ate, but I did recognize the rice. The one Korean food that you quickly come to recognize however is Kimchi. Kimchi is eaten at all three meals by the Koreans and consists of cabbage and assorted seasonings that is stored in large ceramic jugs on the outside roof or stoop until it is well fermented...sort of like Korean Sauerkraut. Another sign of things to come was...no shoes in the restaurant and no chairs. I guess Koreans all have good knees and limber legs, but for gangly Americans, this was not what I'd call fun.
After lunch we were on the road again, finally arriving at our destination at 430pm. Chollipo is a private arboretum on the western coast (Yellow Sea) of Korea near the town of Taean. Chollipo was started in the 1970's and is still run today by American Ferris Miller. Miller, an investment banker by trade, who moved to Korea in the 1950's and began buying up 160 acres of land on the coast near Taean. Miller, who is now in his 70's and is seemingly recovered after a near fatal stroke in 1993. He is attempting to open the arboretum to the public, so that the plant collections can be enjoyed after his death.
We were allowed to stay in one of Miller's guest houses, called the Magnolia House. The Magnolia house was absolutely stunning, constructed in the authentic Korean style with the common sunken roof line. After a short rest, we joined Ferris for dinner at a local restaurant back in Taean (nearly 30 minutes away). Again, a wonderful meal with meat on the grill, all kinds of sauces, but alas...sitting on the floor. Also, forget finding a no smoking section.
We got up early in order to share the 1 bathroom in the Magnolia house. We then opted to get our bearings in the wild quickly, so off to the woods we went. Driving up the road from Chollipo, we found wonderful coastal pine forests. Within just a few minutes, we were finding such treasures as Disporum smilacina, Disporum flavens, Convallaria keiski, and a number of terrestrial orchids. The forest floor was a virtually carpet of the wonderful Hepatica asiatica, and one of my favorite and here to fore rare woodlander Syneilesis aconitifolia.. This was also my first opportunity to see the wonderful solomon's seal, Polygonatum involucratum with flower bracts resembling small handkerchiefs hanging below the arching stems.
Further down the road, we found a forest full of one of my favorite conifers, Juniperus rigida. It's hard to find anything in the US other than the pendulous forms, and these were stunningly upright, and fortunately loaded with seed. Here, we also found a wonderful 3' tall aconitum with soft yellow flowers that excited us all, Aconitum albo violaceum.
The next thing we knew it was time for lunch, which Ferris had prepared for us back at the Magnolia House. Again, a magnificent spread and more food that we could possibly eat. After lunch, we were given a quick tour of part of the Chollipo Gardens by the Head of Plant Collections, Song Ki Hun. Ki Hun has worked at Chollipo for nearly 20 years, and had spent time at the Longwood Gardens program here in the US. His English was fabulous, as was his plant knowledge, and we were already quite excited to find that he would be our guide through most of our trip. Some of the garden highlights included the rare Tricyrtis setouchensis and a huge patch of the variegated poison ivy, Toxicodendron ambigua 'Seven Year Itch'.
Chollipo gardens, which specializes in two of Ferris's favorites, hollies and magnolias are a plantsman's dream. If I had to pick one favorite (as the magnolias were not in bloom), it would have to be a spectacular maple, Acer insularis. This 25' specimen of a little known maple (aka: Acer morifolium) has lovely foliage resembling a carpinus, and a perfectly beautiful shape. I only wish we had more time, as at least 3 days is require to completely view the entire garden.
This evening, it was our turn to take Ferris out to dinner. Ki Hun chose a local restaurant that specialized in seafood. Other than not recognizing much of the food, excitement was provided by the loss of electrical power at least three times during our meal.
At 9am, we departed to our first destination of Mt. Sorak, a mountain range near the east coast, bordering the DMZ to the north. The drive actually went faster than expected, as we were able to travel on interstate toll roads most of the way. The road system in Korea rivals anything we have in the US, including "service areas" where fast food was plentiful. New and expanded interstate highway construction is a sight that we literally saw along our entire route.
Along the route, most of the flat land was used for agriculture, primarily food crops. The production of rice rivaled China, but the harvesting was all mechanized, as we watched miniature combines make their way through the rice paddies as harvesting was in full swing. Also fruit production and quality was staggering. Throughout the rest of the trip, we enjoyed some of the finest fruit that we have ever eaten including Fuji apples, giant Asian pears, and fabulous seedless tangerines. Highway beautification was not foreign to Korea, although the miles of hybrid coreopsis seemed a bit of a strange choice.
In addition, I don't think we traveled 1 mile on flat ground that we didn't see hundreds and thousands of greenhouses. I would venture a guess that there are easily more greenhouses in small country of Korea than there are in the entire US. Virtually all of the greenhouses, however are used for vegetable crop production, and of course, one of their major exports, ginseng.
The one thing that we quickly noticed about Korea is the cleanliness of the country. It was virtually impossible to find any trash on the ground that was not being picked up as soon as it hit the ground. Along every street, workers reminiscent of those at Disney world would stand poised to dart out in traffic, with broom in dust pan in hand if any remnant of trash should come their way.
We arrived in the town of Sokcho at 5pm after a hard day on the road, we had no trouble finding a cheap hotel...actually it was the same one that Bleddyn and Sue had used on an earlier trip. The only thing horticultural here was a struggling jujube (Zizyphus jujube) in full fruit growing out of a crack in the asphalt. I would quickly learn that some members of our group were...shall we say, overly cost conscious, and would gladly sacrifice comfort for price. We did beg for a restaurant with chairs, and were fortunate to find a nice Chinese establishment near the hotel.
We also noticed that there are very few private phones in Korea...not in hotels, and not in businesses. Korea, it's people and it's businesses operate on cellular phones. The best we could manage in our rooms was a room to room connection. For calls back home, we would have to venture out to try and find a nearby pay phone.
At 9am, we departed Sokcho to Mt. Sorak. We made several stops along the road, where we found such gems as the hardy dutchman's pipe, Aristolochia mandschuriensis (although I had to recall my tree climbing skills of youth to reach a rare cigar like fruit). I found my first large populations of Arisaema peninsulae, acres of Cimicifuga heracleifolia, and the most spectacular of the cimicifugas, C. dahurica. Seeing this 7' tall gem in person was indeed a special moment. Also, growing along side the road was Astilbe koreana, an astilbe that preferred dry sunny road cuts to the moist lowland of typical astilbes.
As we journeyed further from the road, we found such treasures as Asarum sieboldii (deciduous), Paris verticillata, and a stunning array of ferns. The ground was again carpeted with Hepatica asiatica and the commonly found Carex siderosticha. I was time now for our daily lunch stop...Spam or Tuna sandwiches, Vienna sausages, and the choice of Korean's everywhere...Pringle's potato chips.
Further down the road at a similar stop, we had to traverse two rivers that were not equipped with the usual stepping stones. Removing shoes, socks, and in some cases pants, we each made our way across two streams to the treasures that we hoped awaited on the other side. If nothing else, this stop provided some great Kodak moments in river crossing.
The dominant tree in this entire stretch was none other than Magnolia sieboldii. These stunning specimens were each loaded with pods of bright orange colored fruit. Other trees in the area in great abundance were Styrax japonicus, Styrax obassia, Lindera obtusiloba, Betula dahurica (identical to our native B. nigra) and a variety of maples, especially the lovely Acer pseudosieboldianum.
Our final stop of the day was the Sorak Mountain National Park. Walking along the road up to the top, we saw a nice array of euonymus in fruit, including Euonymus sieboldianus, and the wonderful Euonymus pauciflorus whose seed capsule hung as to appear that it originated in the actual leaf. Aralia continentalis, one of the deciduous aralias was in full fruit, as was the spectacular Angelica gigas. We also happened upon flowering plants of the Korean Gentiana vehiyama
We returned to the bottom of Mt. Sorak at dark for treacherous steep winding drive back to the hotel. We opted for the same nearby restaurant for dinner, as this was going to be a long night processing collections.
Ki Hun had told us of a nice woodland walk along a river on our way to Chinbu, so off we went. After turning off the paved road, we bounced around, making occasionally "quickie" stops including forging one river in the van until the road abruptly ended.
Even along the road, we passed a few scattered gems including a giant 50' tall Cornus controversa in full fruit, along with big patches of Clerodendron trichotomum. As we passed farm after farm, we were alarmed to see crops rotting in the field. Ki Hun told us that there was such a glut of food in the market that prices were depressed and the farmers had chosen not to harvest. This is a stark contrast, where only a few miles to the North, their are claims of famine in North Korea.
From here, we walked thru a mile of fields until we entered the forests along the river. Even in some of the grown over meadows that we passed, the vegetation was exciting with finds such as Tripterygium regelii (a hydrangea look alike) and thousands of Patrinia scabiosifolia. Much of the walk was on a worn down path thru the short bamboo, sometimes on flat ground and sometimes on the edge of the cliff. The woods were anchored with Cornus controversa, linderas, and a variety of maples.
Our first truly exciting find was the rare Hanabusaya asiatica. These wonderful and hard to grow campanula relative was in full flower along moist slopes. The woods were also filled with Arisaema peninsulae, although most of the plant had suffered miscarriages (ripe seed heads but no viable seed). Other interesting woodland gems included a variety of terrestrial orchids, veratrums, ferns, and even an asian skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus nipponicus) found by Darrell.
Tuesday night, we completed the drive 2 hours south to the small village of Chinbu, adjacent to our next site, Mt. Odae. This must have been the hardest floors yet, or else my bones were beginning to protrude from my body.
Off we went in the early morning to Mt. Odae, another National Park complete with monastery, monks...the whole bit. We hadn't driven along the road far, when we spied a large patch of trillium and cephalanthera orchids. Each plant of the Trillium kamtschaticum had a foliage spread of 2 3'. One of the more dominant ferns was an exact look alike to our native Osmunda cinnamonea, which indeed occurs also in Korea.
We made numerous stops along the ridge, either climbing up or down the steep 50-70% slope, to find more wonderful treasures including a forest of the evergreen Rhododendron brachycarpum and the deciduous Rhododendron schlippenbachii. I was quite shocked to find the hillside chocked full of military bunkers from a war that still hasn't ended.
From the same hotel, we headed southeast to our next stop the port city of Pohang. Driving along the coastal highway, we watched the squid harvest in full swing. As the squids are returned to land, they are cut open and hung on close lines to dry along the highway...what an aroma. We made a lunch stop after a half day of driving on the shore (Sea of Japan). Instead of preparing sandwiches, we all left Sue at the van as we checked out the coastal flora. I was thrilled to find many of our most popular ornamental grasses all native to one area, Miscanthus sinensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Imperata cylindrica,and Calamagrostis brachytricha.
We arrived in Pohang, and immediately went to the post office for our first shipment home. Express mail made everything fairly easy, especially since the post office also provided the require brown paper wrapping and string. After the post office stop, everyone was running low on money, so we walked to the bank several blocks away.
Changing money was easy for everyone except Sue, who tried unsuccessfully to get money with a credit card. Due to translation problem, we still don't know what the problem was. During this time, Ki Hun was phoning to make hotel reservations on Ullung Island for the following day.
While everyone was finishing in the bank, I went to check out the familiar "golden arch" sign that I'd seen on the street nearby. After 3 block in every direction, I stumbled into a nice, but well hidden McDonalds. Unfortunately, the menu wasn't in English and "hold the pickles and the lettuce" didn't translate well. I quickly found that pointing to a #3 value meal was just the trick. Upon returning to the bank, I discovered that I wasn't the only one longing for a stomach settling meal, and subsequently escorted Darrel back to the golden arches.
As we wound up back at the van, Ki Hun had found that all of the hotels were filled on Ullung island (National Holiday) for Friday, so time to change plans (which had become a common occurrence). We would use the next day to visit Mt. Chuwang, just north of our hotel. As we were having trouble distinguishing the odor of the drying squid from ourselves, we thought it best to drop off our laundry, so after dinner we passed our smelly apparel to a professional cleaner.
We set out for the 1.5 hour drive back north to Chuwang, for the hike to the top of Mt. Chuwang. Along the initial part of the trail was nearly a mile of vendors selling everything from carved statues to roots of many of the native plants. Finally we reached the trail and started upward. The giant sheer rock cliffs were indeed the most spectacular sight so far on the trip. To say the vegetation along the trail was desolate, however might be sort of like calling the Pope Catholic. We quickly decided that to find anything interesting here, we would have to detour from the trail. Cutting off the main trail, we followed the river bed filled with picnicers and were quickly in a wonderfully rich area of Asarum sieboldii, various polygonatums, disporums, and smilacinas, along with a large population of Lilium tsingtauense. This was also one of the only sites that we would find Arisaema robustum.
One of the highlights of this mountain was the wonderful Sedum rotundifolium, which hung vicariously from the faces of the rocks that comprised this giant mountain. The sedum was in full flower, as the attractive bright pink blooms hung down for viewing. The other highlight had to be the one small bank of Jeffersonia dubia, discovered by Bleddyn.
This was probably the busiest of the National Parks that we had yet to visit, and certainly one of the most spectacular. The giant sheer cliffs and fabulous waterfalls certainly brought back memories of the Great Basin region of the Pacific Northwest US. The Korean culture has only recently embraced leisure, and Koreans are certainly making the best use of their National Park System. I had begun making informal counts of folks that passed us on the trail and found an average of 35 people per minute passed me on the trail. Groups on the steep, virtually rugged paths were both school kids (all in their school uniforms), old men, couples, as well as lady's days out...complete with makeup and jewelry.
We departed Pohang around 830 with tickets in hand to catch the ferry to Ullung Island, some 216 km to the east. I was quite surprised at how nice the ferry is, with comfortable seats (by this time, any seats would have been a relief) and a big screen television. This was nothing to our surprise when the movies that they showed were all in American, and subtitled in Korean. After a smooth and relaxing ride, we arrived at Ullung Island at 130pm. The steep volcanic rock cliffs surrounding the island gave way as we rounded the corner to a small depression into which the village had been sandwiched. We sailed past the large concrete pilings which broke storm waves before they reached the village. The port was docked with squid boats, and surrounded literally by miles of clothes line hanging with fresh squid. The families of the fishermen would work frantically killing, cleaning, and hanging the squid before the next shipment arrived.
As we de-ferried, we were scurried away to the military office at the ferry. We were asked our intentions, for identification, and other questions that we didn't cherish. After being told that we needed to fill out special forms, the office clerk gave up when he found that the office had run out of the needed forms. Of course, he promised to "get with us later" which never happened. Most of the islands, such as Ullung are still heavily used as strategic military bases, although I can't imagine we looked like North Koreans.
We made the short walk to our hotel, only to find that the guests that had been there the night before decided to stay, and they had no more rooms. After Ki Hun and the desk clerk had a heated discussion, we discovered that they would send us to a nearby hotel up the road. We were escorted to the hotel, as our bags followed later by vehicle. The rooms were not bad, although the lack of a sink in the shrunken size bathroom made seed cleaning difficult at best. At least we had a good view of everyones kimchi.
Discontent with the room quickly faded as I stuck my head out the window to view steep volcanic cliffs full of Farfugium japonicum just coming into flower. Being one of my favorite plants, this was indeed a thrill. While others spent the afternoon investigating the village, Ki Hun and I hiked up the mountain behind the hotel...I wanted to walk thru the farfugiums.
There was no part of the village that even approached flat, and it got steeper the further we walked. Even walking across a farmers field on a 40% slope got me winded. The farmers on this island had gone as far as constructing their own chair lifts to move the produce and other items too and from the mountainous fields.
Arriving at the top, not only the ligularias greeted us, but wonderful trees such as Camellia japonica, Neolitsea sericea and Machilus thunbergii. All along the treacherous walk back down an adjacent valley were fascinating plants including a variety of native artemisias, chrysanthemums, and a giant native stand of Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry'. Arriving back at sea level, there was still another few miles to the hotel, but this part of the journey was on a relatively flat boardwalk which circled the entire island, perched between the cliffs and the sea.
We awoke to sunny skies, despite the weather forecast for a day of rain, and departed by bus from Podung to a larger fishing village further along the island, called Chowdung. We arrived just in time to board the Chung Mu ferry for the journey further along the island to a small village called Chonpu, since the sheer cliffs don't allow a road all the way around the island. This was the impression of a ferry that I had pictured before the trip. The small ferry held about 1 vehicle along with 50 people, some in a small cabin, and the rest of us standing on the top deck.
Although we didn't get the promised rain, we did get the wind and associated choppy seas. About 1/2 way thru our journey, and after slowing several times for the rough seas, the boat was hit broadside by a wave that sent the boat well into a 45 degree lurch. I still don't know what the screaming Koreans beside us were yelling, but from the look on their face, this was not supposed to happen. After the rocking subsided, the boat was reoriented and we continued, albeit a bit slower. We finally arrived at Chonpu to catch yet another bus to the village of Chukan. The bus, speeding around the curves on the edge of the cliff wasn't great, but it couldn't compare to the now memorable boat ride.
Our trail upward began by following an steep road up past farm fields. At the first turn off, only 1000' feet up the road the vegetation began to change. The first thing I noticed was Disporum flavens...not just a few plants, but it was everywhere. And best of all, it was covered in fruit. Only a curve further and there were arisaemas...not just a few, but hundreds and many of them were loaded with fruit. This is the only island where many of the Arisaema peninsulae have dramatic silver patterns to the leaves, and sure enough, there they were.
As I was stumbling thru the disporums, I spotted another of our target plants for the trip, the giant hepatica, H. maxima. It was hard to imagine that this plant was going to live up to its advance billing, but there it was...18" wide clumps of glossy dark green leaves that were as large as the palm of your hand. While we only found a few plants at this point, we would soon arrive at areas, where it literally carpeted the ground.
Further along the road, as the hepatica thickened, so did the arisaema seed heads and another surprise, Trillium kamtschaticum. I'd grow this trillium just for the arisaema like foliage that could span 2 3' in width.
After a refreshing 3.5 hour hike, we arrived in the village of Nari, a small farming village in the center of the island at 1406' (an old volcanic crater). The crops being grown in the village surprised us, including giant fields of platycodon (balloon flower) and codonopsis. After a delicious lunch of cold Spam sandwiches, we were on our way again, for what we had been warned was the most difficult part of the hike.
The climb was gradual and the woods were extremely rich with flora, especially ferns. It wasn't far before I found both Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) that appeared identical to our US native, and Phyllitis scolopendrium (the popular Hart's tongue fern) growing nearby. The woods were filled both with spectacular arisaema peninsulae specimens as well as hundreds of Lilium hansonii specimens, dormant except for seed pods on 3' stems.
Another find that really excited me was a giant clump of ophiopogon. All of the ophiopogon that we had seen on the trip was typically running, but here was a solitary clump, nearly 2' across and 1' tall with narrower than normal foliage. Time will only tell if this is as good as it looked.
Suddenly the climb steepened until we were climbing what must have been a 70-80% slope. Ropes were in place to help climbers scale the logs, precariously driven into the slippery bank. To make matters worse, the clouds thickened and the winds howled, as we were sure that a storm was approaching. For over 3 hrs, the trek continued in the same conditions, as the seemingly unreachable peak actually got closer and closer. This is one of those times that causes you to seriously question why in the heck you agreed to come on this trip, and how will they rescue you with the helicopter.
Although the woods in this virgin forest (1 of 4 in Korea) were filled with arisaema, hydrangea, schizophragma, and smothered with a groundcover of Arachniodes standishii, I was afraid to stray far from the main path. The dominant trees at this point included Sorbus commixta, Acer takesimense, Tilia insularis, Fagus multinervis, and Tsuga sieboldii. Finally, Song Inbong Peak was reached, and after a quick view from the lookout point, it was time to head down, albeit with wobbly knees, numb feet, and a greatly reduced sense of balance. The backpack that started out as an insignificant bodily attachment now figuratively, if not literally weighed a ton.
Most of the pathway down was lined with bamboo (Sasa kurilensis), so now that I could focus again on the plants, they were less to be found. After again finding the courage, but still lacking the footing, I made my way down one of the steep side banks to find dozens of giant silver leaf arisaemas, many of which bore giant seed heads. Even a giant patch of goodyera orchid greeted me as I came out of one downward skid on the slippery hillside.
After another 3 hours of slipping and sliding on the 30-60% slope downward, I arrived (at least in spirit) back at town. Fortunately Darrell and Ki Hun had waited about an hour from the end of the trail for me, or I might still be on the side of the mountain. I don't remember much else about that night, except that the hard hotel floors felt unusually soft.
Awaking with a body that creaked like an old truck I used to have, Darrell and I both opted to remain at the hotel to rest and process collections from the day before. As it had turned out, we were able to finally secure rooms at our original hotel on the waterfront during the day before, and somehow we had all managed to make it to the right hotel the evening prior, although it is still foggy in my memory. Dan, Ki Hun, Bleddyn and Sue took a similar trek as the day before, except starting from a different village, and thank goodness less wind during the ferry ride. They returned around 4pm to report similar flora to the day before.
Ullung Island was in the midst of their cultural festival which was also taking place in the harbor, so while working ,we got the enjoy the awards ceremony, some incredible kite flying exhibitions, lots of singing, and even a flower show. At night, the squid boats, each complete with hundreds of lights for attracting squid, would launch, providing a truly indescribable show as they lit up the ocean for hundreds of miles like a giant ball stadium. Of course, when they returned at 1 am, they lit up our rooms as well.
While most of the group stayed at the hotel to process and pack, Bleddyn and I decide to back track our steps back up the "hike from hell". We quickly found that starting from the back side of the trail is the way that most folks traverse the mountain...taking the steepest part first, while they still have some energy. The number of groups using the trails are absolutely amazing, even groups of Buddhist nuns. The nuns befriended us on our journey, giggling endlessly as I stopped to catch my breath, then later tugging on my backpack from behind to get another chuckle. We would see them again, later on the same ferry returning to the mainland.
After reaching the 2.5 km point, I took off down a steep bank to search for more silver centered Arisaema peninsulae. After finding a number of seed heads, I spotted what appeared to be a couple of clumps of liriope on the hill. Upon moving further, I found this to be instead Cymbidium goeringii, one of the many endemic orchids to Korea. By now it is just after noon and time to return to the hotel and check out for our afternoon ferry ride back to the mainland. Departing at 4pm, we arrive back on the mainland around 730, with the highlight of the ferry ride being a chance for the group to see their first Jackie Chan movie (comedic Bruce Lee style film). After deboarding, and picking up our van (no vehicles allowed on this ferry), we headed back to our same hotel in Pohang for the evening.
After a quick dinner in a local eatery, and our nightly ritual of shopping for our in room breakfasts of toast with jam, bananas, and re-heated noodles, it was in for an early night to prepare for an early start in the morning.
As we prepared to leave the hotel, Darrell spotted a very large gold leaf kerria beside the front door. The owner was kind enough to allow us to each take a piece...only hope it is really as good as it looked and not colored because of some toxic waste dump.
After the brief excitement of the kerria, we departed Pohang very early in the morning for the long drive to the Southwestern port city of Wando to catch the ferry to our next stop, Cheju Island. We arrived shortly after 1pm to find that the ferry is not only filled for today, but booked for the entire next week. By now (2pm) we are starved, so we find a small restaurant in Wando and after dining and stopping at the Post Office to mail our second package back home, we head north to big port city of Mokpo.
Along the way, we stopped by a cut over hillside, where Bleddyn had found some interesting items 4 years earlier. The trees, mostly Euscaphis japonicus, had begun to regrow and were already in full fruit. On this seemingly dry bank, we found real treasures. Several of the native orchids were in abundance including both Calanthe striata and Cymbidium goeringii. Darrell was excited, as we found a small patch of Tricyrtis macropoda (dilatata). Under the thick weeds was also an stunning array of silver mottled Asarum maculatum...a seemingly unlikely place.
Riding up to Mokpo, the rice harvest in the region was in full swing. Unlike our visit to China a year earlier, all of the rice was harvested by miniature combines, which maneuvered perfectly in and out of the muddy rice patties.
Arriving at Mokpo, we managed to find our tiniest rooms yet, obviously constructed by a jack leg carpenter, with features including no square walls, poorly attached linoleum, a missing sink, stopped up toilets, a tub that drained onto the floor, and doors installed side by side that wouldn't allow each other to open fully. I'm still fascinated by the total lack of shower curtains in Korea...must be something cultural. Even in the poorest quality room, however, don't even think about entering the room without first removing your shoes...another cultural thing!
The only way these low end motels stay in business is that the owners run up and down the street knocking on cars and directing the occupants to their respective hotels (usually 10-30 rooms). With an overpopulated country, seemingly everyone had found their own niche in which to open a business.
We were able to get tickets this time, although it took running back and forth between three different buildings. We discovered, however that the ferry did not return on Monday...our preferred departure date. As time was running out for the expedition, we again changed our plans and book the 5pm return ferry for Sunday.
We departed from the hotel just after 6am for our next ferry adventure on Cheju Island, and a site that Bleddyn promised would be the richest yet.
The giant old boat was used primarily for freight, and was missing the comforts of home like chairs. After loading the van, we had to return to the terminal and board through another passenger gate. As the gates opened, folks pushed their way onto the boat, securing their spot on floor of the enclosed passenger deck. It didn't take long after our 9am boarding for us to realize that this ferry was not at all like our Ullung experience.
Entire families and groups of friends frowned at us for evidently interfering with their "space". For the nearly 6 hour journey to Cheju Island, you had the option of sleeping on the floor (no mats), watching the ocean, or watching a movie. Also, unlike the ferry to Ullung, no one seemed to observe the no smoking sign, especially the older men, and we were all soon coughing and gasping in the smokey cabin.
We did meet a nice Indiana couple on the boat...one of the few Americans we had seen since leaving Seoul. She was a Korean native, and he was here in service. It was fascinating to hear his stories of how backward Korea was in the 1960's with no paved roads outside of Seoul. He was truly stunned at the changes that had taken place as Korea had made the transition to a modern technological society. They also introduced us to the pleasures of cantaloupe ice cream popsicles, which would become our after dinner treat for the remainder of the trip.
After an extremely uncomfortable journey, we arrived on the north end of Cheju Island. As most of our collections would be on the south side, we headed there to the town of Sogwipo to search for a hotel. The 45 minute drive skirting the base of Mt. Halla, the tallest peak on the island, was a fairly easy trek...then off to search for hotels. After checking out 4 hotels, our reconnaissance team chose the Hotel Napoli...certainly the nicest hotel since we had left Seoul. Checking in wasn't as easy as planned, since although the hotel accepted credit cards, their machine rejected at least one from everyone in the group. Finally, by pooling our resources, we managed enough cash for our 3 night stay.
After departing the hotel at 8am, we dropped off our dirty clothes at a local laundry, then backtracked along the road which we had driven from Cheju City to Sogwipo. We dropped Darrell, Bleddyn and Ki Hun off to collect, while Sue, Dan, and I returned to take care of some banking business. Changing funds in a bank in a large city proved quite easy. I the had to also try to secure an airline ticket for my flight back to Seoul. Fortunately, the travel agency was near the bank and Ki Hun's Korean paper saying, "I want a flight from Kwangu to Seoul at 5pm" worked great...and for only $34.
We returned to the first collecting site around 930 and found an incredibly rich area. Both sides of the road were both moist and gently sloping. Almost as soon as we entered the woodland from the road, we were greeted with arisaemas, both A. ringens and A. peninsulae. While seed on A. peninsulae was plentiful, seed on A. ringens was quite a bit more scarce and all still quite green. Again, the ground was covered with hepaticas, but this time it was Hepatica insularis (a virtually non existent species in US gardens). This species was maller in stature than Hepatica asiatica that we had found earlier, but the patterns of silver were much more striking.
Further away from the road, I discovered a site that was to become common place along this road...hostas growing with a narrow-leaf ophiopogon and many different terrestrial orchids. The only hosta known to grow on Cheju Island is Hosta venusta, so it will be interesting to see what results from our varied collections. The hostas that we found in this region were growing in dense shade usually on dry cliffs. Near the hostas was another special find, a particularly dwarf form of the partridge berry, Mitchella undulata...complete with dwarf red berries.
It wasn't far from the hostas, that I began to find large patches of goodyeras, and oh were they spectacular. First we discovered forms (species?) with beautiful silvery netted foliage, but it was the next species that drove us over the edge. This goodyera had velvety black leaves with a dramatic pink stripe down the center of each leaf. What I initially thought to be a rare find turned up everywhere we visited along this same road. Our next stop was a bit further up the same road, and the vegetation was for the most part similar to the first. Very common in the woods along this road were patches of the deciduous ginger, Asarum maculatum...all with lovely silver leaf patterns. Also the woods were filled with a nice small ligularia...probably L. fischeri.
Stop 2 was also particularly well endowed with patches of the hardy orchid Calanthe striata...some patches as large as a typical bedroom. The woods here also presented a nice assortment of solomon's seal including Polygonatum odoratum, P. falcatum, Smilacina japonica, and Disporum smilacina.
By the time we made stop 3 along the same road, we were all so tired of seeing Arisaema peninsulae that we simply passed by ripe seed heads laying in our path by the hundreds. I never thought I would say such, but the prospect of having to clean thousands of arisaema seed before shipping them back to the US didn't excite anyone. This site again provided more of the same, but with some particularly nice dryopteris (ferns). Our 4th stop provided one of the nicest finds of the day, a wonderful silver speckled Arisaema peninsulae growing by itself in a dry creek bed...one of those one of a kind finds. Nearby was a large patch of veratrums (in full seed), a plant that we would later find hundreds of during the expedition. I think we were all stunned by the ferns, especially the spectacular specimens of Osmunda japonica (the nearly identical counterpart to our US native Osmunda regalis).
Also at this stop, we were thrilled to find Aruncus aethusifolius growing in the wild among the mossy rocks in a dry creek bed alongside aconitums, hydrangea and hosta. The plant that probably surprised us most was a wonderful euphorbia that we found dotted throughout the woods. Although the flower head was similar to Euphorbia robbiae, the foliage was much narrower. There was also a neat ivy, Hedera rhombea that we found occasionally in the woods, often in the adult form as it climbed to the top of the canopy. Hopefully, this can be rooted and eventually introduced.
On Saturday, we dropped half of the group (Dan, Sue, and Ki Hun) at Mt. Halla for an all day hike, while the rest of us (Tony, Darrell, and Bleddyn) explored around the base of the mountain. We journeyed back north of the mountain and took road 1117 around the base.
The first site was a road cut, below which we found a spectacular specimen of Euscaphis japonica in full fruit...WOW. I can see why JC Raulston was so excited about this tree when he first saw it in Korea in 1985. Nearby another spectacular tree from which JC had collected seed, Meliosma oldhamii...25' tall and smothered with terminal spikes of orange berries.
Further down the same road, we found a splendid Kodak moment as an entire roadside bank of Parnassia palustris was in full flowers. Other than this wet bank, the roadsides were particularly dry, in part due to the extended drought from which the region was suffering.
After lunch in the Mt. Halla parking lot, I opted to explore the region across from Mt. Halla in the hopes of finding more seed of Arisaema ringens, while Darrell and Bleddyn headed toward one of many volcanic craters on the island.
My trek to the top of the mountain across the street from Mt. Halla was extremely successful, as I got to see some of the largest Arisaema ringens that I've ever seen, along with more hostas, solomon's seal, and plenty more goodyeras.
Further down the road, Darrell made two exciting finds, Liriope muscari that the Korean's mistakenly call, Liriope platyphylla, and a larger leaf hosta that appears to be stoloniferous...we will have to wait and see, but it certainly didn't look like any H. venusta that I've ever seen.
By 5pm, it was time to pick up the group at Mt. Halla and return to do our grocery shopping prior to dinner. We departed at 715 for dinner with England's John Gallagher, a friend of Dan and Ki Hun who was in town and had invited us to dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a splendid restaurant near the 5 star Paradise Inn at which John was staying.
Returning to the hotel at 10pm, the rest of the group (who had greatly enjoyed copious amounts of adult beverages) decided to go to a local night stop to do some "bopping" as Sue called it. I don't remember what time they returned, but do remember that they were all strangely quite the next morning.
We checked out of our hotel and were joined by a local friend of Ki Hun, who was also quite a plant nut. He escorted us to the east side of the island to see some rather unique botanically interesting sites. After a hour drive through sites such as a preserved authentic village with thatch roof huts, and back roads, all lined with spectacular Cryptomeria japonica, we arrive in the midst of an open field...the Abourum Crater.
After climbing under a barbed wire fence, we started the hike up this seemingly uninteresting hill. It didn't take long before we began to notice all kinds of little gems nestled in the grazed hillside. The most abundant was a cute little adenophora that was in full flower...tiny purple bells. Also, a nice purple flowered allium quickly caught everyone's attention. As we crested the hill, and began our descent in the crater, the group scattered.
Darrell yelled that he had discovered hostas on this barren sunny bank, about the same time I found Lygodium japonicum on the other side (Japanese climbing fern). Others had found treasures including an unidentified gallium, a spectacular pink flowering stellera, S. rosea, and a favorite tree, Xanthoxylum ailanthoides. After a quick hour and a half, it was again time to move on.
Our next stop was Pija Rim, a nearby national park of Torreya nucifera. Being one used to seeing torreyas as small nursery grown plants, it was truly incredible to see a preserved stand of 2,750 trees, each between 300 and 800 years old, and with a diameter of 10'+. It would have been quite easy to stand underneath these trees and scoop up seed from the ground all day, but it wouldn't have taken long to exceed the weight limit of our van, so we tried to show a bit of restraint. Nearby the large torreya was yet another in what became ubiquitous rock piles throughout our trip, although this one was certainly the largest. Ki-Hun explained that for good luck in the Shamanist religion, everyone who passed by added a rock to the pile..hmmm. Many of the large trees and nearby rocks were covered with the creeping epiphytic fern, lemaphyllum. The shock of this visit was the bizarre painted tire planters of junipers... a la Felder Rushing.
Our final stop, before heading to the ferry was to see a native stand of Crinum asiaticum. This white star flowered crinum occurs only on the sea coast, where it is native on rocky outcrops in the ocean, just off the coast. Although we found the crinums growing nicely, there were no seeds to be found this time and no time to take a boat out to further populations. While here, I was pleased to find Vitex rotundifolia in the wild...a plant that JC Raulston had highly promoted for beach dune stabilization.
By 245, we arrived at the ferry terminal to purchase tickets and get the van loaded on board. Then, it's off to the soda counter inside the terminal for a late lunch, and then hurry up and wait for the 530 ferry departure and another ferry ride from hell.
After choking and coughing for another 6 hours, we arrive back in Mokpo at 11:30. Fortunately, we had reserved our same hotel, just across the street, so with a minimum of trouble (waking the hotel owners), we were in our room and crashed for the night.
Today was the day that we had all dreaded, as we would lose our valuable tour guide Song Ki Hun, who needed to return to Chollipo. We now have as our guide, Kim Un Chae, who arrived by train late last evening. After dropping Ki Hun and the train station, we are off to Wolchulsan National Park, just 1.5 hours away.
At 10am, we arrive at the park and disembark at the south end of the mountain. As we have been warned about the severity of the hike (vertical climbs up the face of the mountain on metal ladders and rope bridges from peak to peak), Darrell and I gladly offered to stay around the base, and then drive the van to pick up the rest of the group at the north end of the mountain.
The base of the mountain was extremely dry, but still yielded some exciting finds including more Hemerocallis longituba, the dwarf Patrinia saniculaefolia, different terrestrial orchids, and a very exciting find of Davallia mariesii (Rabbit's foot fern) growing on a sunny rock. Hosta were also quite plentiful here, as Hosta capitata was the dominant species. The specimens that we found were quite a bit larger than normal, with leaves to nearly 8" long...found on the dry partially sunny banks.
By 2pm, it was time to head to the north side to pick up the group. Un Chae had agreed to join us in case we got lost, which was probably a good idea. Once we arrive, we meandered around the base, except for the energetic Un Chae who climbed the trail to meet the rest of the group. The only real exciting find at this end was Iris rossii, which Darrell found in several locations along the dry trail. After the group arrived at the bottom at 5pm to report a very dry and fairly unproductive trek, returned again to our Mokpo hotel. Even the drive back to the hotel was eventful today, however as we were stopped by the police (not for speeding, which we had done excessively throughout the trip), but for driving in the passing lane...hadn't heard that one before. Frustrated by his inability to read the English on Bleddyn's international driving license, he finally allowed us to continue.
As we walked to dinner from our hotel on the waterfront, we were alarmed to find armed guards on every street corner near our hotel, complete with riot gear and machine guns. While we weren't able to determine the problem, we ate quickly, then scurried back to the hotel.
Departing our west coast Mokpo hotel for the final time, we made a quick stop at the post office for mailing our third packages, then to the bank to exchange more currency. We were now off for a 6 hr drive to the east to Mt. Chiri, and our stop for the night in nearby Kurye. Again, we were stopped by the police, who again was frustrated by trying to read English and sent us on our way. Something got lost in the translation, and we still don't know why we were stopped this time.
The longest time was spent trying to make our way around the large city of Kwangju. It had been obvious during the entire trip, that the increase in the number of vehicles was far out pacing the abilities of the highways to keep pace....hence the amazing amount of highway construction. Gasoline prices were comparable to the US, except for diesel that was available everywhere at the US equivalent of $.50/gallon.
The increase in vehicles is so new, that all of the cars on the roads were of very recent make. This has led to terrible traffic jams, such as the one we encountered trying to make our way around Kwangju. The traffic problems are caused both by the volume of cars and a the lack of many stoplights. Only the busiest intersections in the busiest towns have any stoplights, and even then it is certainly not enough. Everywhere else, it's a vehicular free for all, with seemingly no traffic rules...thank goodness they drove on the right side of the road.
The other problem is parking lots, which are virtually non existent, forcing drivers to stop in the middle of the road, making problems even worse.
By 3pm, we had arrived in Kurye, found a hotel and unloaded our gear. Just wanting to get out and walk, we opted for a quick reconnaissance trip up Mt. Chiri. After driving over the peak, we drove along until we found a spot to pull off the incredibly steep and winding road. Dashing up the hill, it was sight for sore eyes...tricyrtis...everywhere. As I yelled for Darrell (our resident tricyrtis nut), Dan was doing the same from below the road. As it turned out, we had stopped right in the midst of a 2 acre patch of Tricyrtis macropoda...complete with plenty of seed. What appeared to be a dry bank had grown the largest leaved T. macropoda that I've ever seen.
The woods at this quick stop were absolutely loaded with interesting plants...hemerocallis, Asarum maculatum, Hosta (either H. nakaiana or H. capitata), veratrums, polygonatums, orchids, and a host of wonderful ferns). Although syneilesis (like a cut leaf ligularia) was abundant throughout Korea, this was one of the only times that we were able to find a patch in seed.
Returning for dinner and our nightly shopping, we eagerly anticipated the upcoming day, back on Mt. Chiri.
Today, we chose to hike the main trail up to the temple. Immediately, we could tell as we hiked that this was not going to be as rich as the day before. Most of the rock woodland to each side of the trail was solid bamboo (the 5' tall kind). As I reached near the top, I opted to go over the edge of the cliff to the right and climb downward looking for moisture. Darrell took off early in the trail and climbed to the lower part of the ridge, while the rest of the group opted to go over the top of the cliff to the left near the temple and down into the next valley.
After climbing downward for about an hour, I stumbled on a beautiful forest of Rhododendron schlippenbachii (Royal azalea) with a solid ground cover of hosta beneath. Climbing just below the steep rock cliff face, I found an incredible patch of Clematis heracleifolia. This form was much different that what we had been finding, with a thick woody trunk and a much stouter appearance. Also in the same area, was more of the spectacular Cimicifuga dahurica with it's faded 7' spikes.
There were plenty of hostas everywhere I turned in this deeply shaded valley, from growing in moss on sheer cliffs to flat spots on the top of cliffs. The area was also filled with Astilbe koreana...an incredibly tough plant that I would love to see in flower. Every now and then an interesting fern or solomon's seal would appear, but after 3 hours of going down the bank, it was time head upwards again. Sometimes, just grabbing trees for balance had been unpleasant...especially when in a forest of the spiny Aralia elata, but here, grabbing the trunk of a Stewartia pseudocamellia was something special. I even had to stop for a few photo op's every time I encountered one of those 2' diameter stewartias with the wonderful mottled bark.
Still heading forward and looking for a place between the cliffs that was climbable took a while, but I finally was able to turn upward. The forest had now become filled with a scrubby oak, Quercus mongolica, although still with occasional hosta patches beneath. As I climbed higher, patches of polygonatum with fruit began to appear...an all too rare occurrence on the trip. As the cliff steepened, daylilies again began to appear...even a few in seed.
After another 2 3 hours of climbing...some virtually vertical, I managed to crawl over the final giant rock to the top above the tree line to find a meadow of hosta, solomon's seal, and daylilies. Bright full sun above the tree line is not exactly where I anticipated finding a field of hosta, solomon's seal, and daylilies, but the abundance of seed on the daylilies was much more than anything I'd seen previously.
Back down the main trail, I was still amazed at the amount of people that used the Korean park system...again 30 40 people every minute went passed. This was to be my final night in Korea, as I was abandoning the rest of the group to head back to responsibilities in the US. The night was spent with final collection processing and getting a last package ready to mail.
Having to be back in Kwangju for a 5pm flight, I opted to join the group for a morning foray back to the top of Mt. Chiri. Passing our site of Wednesday, we journeyed first to a public parking lot several miles further up the mountain. This was an unusual site...a meadow of miscanthus and brambles, fading into a young pine forest.
Almost immediately, I encountered a small, but nice patch of Tricyrtis macropoda, followed by seed on several nearby lilies. As I wandered further out in to the meadow, I stumbled across several clumps of Iris ensata v. spontanea growing right beside hostas. As I passed into a large patch of brambles, I looked down to find a giant patch of Disporum viridescens...the first patch that we had seen on the trip...and loaded with seed. We quickly finished up at that site, then headed even further down the road to a promising stop near a small waterfall.
This site was not particularly rich, but did yield a nice patch of Disporum flavens, as well as some hard to find seed on Actaea asiatica. What this site did yield was one of the funnier moments on the trip. Dan and Darrell had climbed upward to top of the ridge and were entranced in the flora of the region, when a Korean fighter plane breaking the sound barrier, swooped up from the adjacent valley. Diving down again, just above the tree tops, the sonic boom just above their heads sent them diving to the ground to avoid the seemingly imminent crash. They returned to the van visibly shaken...but fortunately in the mood for a variety of airplane jokes.
We stopped for a quick lunch along the route, and left Bleddyn, Sue, and Darrell behind as Dan and Un Chae took me back to the bus station. We arrived at the station with about 30 seconds to spare before the 1pm bus departed for the 1.5 hour ride to Kwangju. Upon arriving at Kwangju, I ventured out to the street and hailed a taxi, which with the number of taxis in Korea isn't very hard. My prepared note of "take me to your post office" made for a quick drive. After mailing my final package, it was taxi time again. Once more, as I pulled out my "take me to the airport" note. After a fast paced 30 minute drive to the airport, it was hurry up and wait for my 5pm flight back to Seoul.
Arriving at Seoul at 6pm, it didn't take long to catch the free shuttle back to the nearby and "bed endowed" Airport Tourist Hotel. Cleaning the remainder of my accessions for inspections didn't take long, so all that remained was repacking for the flight home.
The flight from Seoul to Tokyo departed at 10 am and arrived in Tokyo at 1pm. After a 3 hour wait, we were ready to take off for the US. Arriving in Seattle after a smoke filled flight on Northwest (one of the few airlines that still allow smoking), we landed. We were greeted by a plant sniffing dog, that must have had a cold, or simply wasn't interested in the open package of beef jerky that I'd forgot about in my carrying case. After a quick and non eventful trip thru agriculture inspections, I was off for my connecting flights back to NC...wondering if I'd ever be able to decipher my notes enough to write this log. I guess, all ended well.