Delicate Fruit Blossoms Mark Spring's Return

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Delicate Fruit Blossoms Mark Spring's Return

Spring is already in full swing in the southern part of Korea. Rape flowers, forsythia, white magnolias and cherry blossoms have begun to bloom on the south coast after warm weather leapfrogged onto the mainland from Cheju island to the south.

Unlike Seoul, which sees frequent cold snaps in the early spring, Haenam, an area in the far south of the Korean peninsula, is mild and full of the sweet fragrance of apricot blossoms. Giddy from the fragrance in the midst of the flowers and ground mists, you might feel like bursting into a chorus of "The Sound of Music."

The Bohae Brewery has an orchard on a low hill facing the sea that is a well-known tourist attraction in Haenam. It grows maesil fruit here, which it calls "Korean green plums" but are generally known as "Japanese apricots." The farm, about 430,000 square meters and enclosed by camellia and cypress trees, boasts at least six different kinds of Japanese apricot trees.

Apricot trees, which belong to the rose family, lose their leaves every autumn and blossom in early spring.

The color of the apricot blossom differs depending on the species. Hwahyangsil flowers have pink "double" petals (one tucked inside the other) and cheongchuk flowers have ivory petals. Aengsuk trees, on the other hand, have a light pink blossom. The rest have white blossoms.

Apricot trees were first brought to Korea about 1,500 years ago from China. Since then, apricot trees, along with pine trees and bamboo, have been a favorite subject of traditional paintings and poems in Korea.

Apricot trees are admired for their ability to bloom and survive even in extremely cold weather. In Korea, a person who displays a strong will and survives hardships used to be compared to "apricot blossom in snow" (seoljungmae in Korean).

In spring, the entire grounds of the farm, which was started over 20 years ago, are covered by the pink, light pink, ivory and white blossoms of the 14,500 apricot trees. According to Kim Chang-gi, who has been working at the farm for about 16 years, apricot trees bloom about 10 days later on the farm than in other areas of the south because even though it is located on the coast, it has a wider daily temperature range than other areas.

"Most apricot trees from Japan usually have white flowers but the trees in our farm flower in a variety of colors," said Mr. Kim proudly. Of all the apricot trees on the farm, about 4,000 are of species by now considered native to Korea, such as the hwahyangsil and cheongchuk. The remaining 10,000 trees are of Japanese species.

Apricot trees are also abundant in other areas of the south, such as Gwangyang and Suncheon in South Cholla province and Hadong and Sancheong in South Kyongsang province. They can usually be found on mountain slopes.

The apricot trees in Bohae Brewery's farm, however, grow in even lines on a hill specially developed for harvesting the fruit. The trees lining in the farm thus create "tunnels" of flowers, and the numerous wild flowers that grow around the trees add more beauty to that of the apricot blossoms.

Unlike other kinds of fruits that are picked when they ripen and turn red or yellow, maesils are picked from the trees as soon as they turn deep green.

Maesil apricots, though very sour in taste, are an alkaline food good for the body. The fruit is also rich in citrus and malic acids that are said to help relieve fatigue.

Bohae Brewery's farm is open to the public during the spring and manufactured products, such as the pure extract of the fruit, are on sale starting at 2,000 won (about $1.50).

For more information, call the farm at 061-532-4959 (Korean service only).

by Kim Sae-joon

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