Venerable Old Trees

A revered temple tree

Old trees, new trees, big trees, small trees

We love trees—for many reasons—and can’t imagine living anywhere that doesn’t have a variety of trees.

I’ve written about Arbor Day before, as trees are so lovely and so important to all our communities. See here:

So, it’s very interesting to travel in some Asian countries, especially Japan, Korea and China, where trees are actually revered, and people go to great lengths to keep old trees alive.

Ginkgo tree on Ginkgo Tree Avenue in Jeongju

People there of yesteryear believed that trees had spirits or were gods even, and some of those beliefs still linger today. Many of these special old trees have legends and stories attached to them, and all kinds of symbolism, so the tree becomes more than “just a tree”.

I’m hoping that on our next visit to Korea we may find examples of more old trees, but for now here are two lovely specimens.

First, we checked an old ginkgo tree in Jeongju hanok town (or Jeongju traditional style home town, sometimes written Chonju) on Ginkgo Tree Ave. This 16m-high tree (about 51 feet) was classified a Natural Monument in 1982, and is thought to be almost 600 years old. A carved stone plaque tells us: It is free from bugs, and was planted in the hope that young scholars would similarly advance in government posts free from the taint of injustice. It was planted in the courtyard of a high-ranking official involved in the founding of the Chosan (Jeosan) Dynasty after he returned to his home town to establish a school for young scholars. This tree is a living witness to the Chosan Dynasty’s 500 years of rising and falling fortunes. It also symbolizes Chonju’s position as a center of Confucianism in Cholla Province.

Chang in front of the stone explaining about the ginkgo tree

It’s said that the people of Chonju love Ginkgo Tree Ave as being full of warmth and historical sites. We thought the avenue was charming, and loved the idea that the tree is being so well protected.

Very old Chinese juniper tree

Later, in Seoul we visited the famous Chandeokgung Palace, where our min purpose was to visit the Secret Garden (see later). At the end of that garden tour the guide stopped and told us about this old Chinese juniper tree in a small garden near some of the government buildings of the palace complex. At around 750 years it’s one of oldest trees in Korea. It’s 5.6 m high (about 18 feet) and 5.9 m in circumference (about 19 feet) at the widest part of its trunk, so is pretty big, although some of its sprawling branches are now propped up.

A plaque tells us that juniper wood is very aromatic and is used to make incense for rituals.

Viv and the juniper tree—it was an extremely hot day!

This aromatic tree was planted here to provide incense for ancestral rituals at Seonwonjeon Shrine to the east, where portraits of former kings were enshrined. This tree is depicted in Donnwoldo (Painting of East Palace), which was done around 1830 and provides a panoramic view for Chandeokgung.

Next…Lovely old Zelkova trees.





One thought on “Venerable Old Trees

  1. Pingback: Guardian Zelkova Trees – Korean Experiences

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