A History of Arboriculture - Seoul

A History of Arboriculture – Seoul

Seoul: A Tree Lover’s Journey Through Time

A Lush Legacy: Seoul’s Arboricultural Origins

In the heart of South Korea lies Seoul, a vibrant city pulsating with life, where the ancient and the modern coexist in harmony. Amidst the bustling streets and soaring skyscrapers, a lush tapestry of trees weaves together the city’s rich arboricultural heritage. From sacred groves in ancient kingdoms to the flourishing urban forests of today, trees have long played a vital role in defining Seoul’s character and atmosphere.

Embracing Green Spaces: Accessible Beauty for All

Once reserved for the ruling class, the beauty and tranquility of trees now grace public parks and green spaces throughout Seoul, fostering a deep love for arboriculture among its people. As you meander along the streets, you’ll find Seoul’s diverse array of native and exotic tree species painting a vivid canvas of colors and textures that change with the seasons, from the delicate cherry blossoms of spring to the fiery red maples of autumn.

Dedicated Stewards: Arborists and City Planners Shaping Seoul

This captivating cityscape is no mere coincidence. Seoul’s thriving urban forests are the result of dedicated arborists and city planners, such as the renowned Korean arborist Kim Jong-kyu and former mayor Lee Myung-bak, who have worked tirelessly to protect and nurture its trees. The early 2000s saw the launch of the “Green Seoul 21” project, emphasizing the importance of urban forests in the city’s development and laying the groundwork for future environmental initiatives.

Innovative Approaches: Maximizing Green Spaces in a Dense City

Seoul’s commitment to trees is also evident in its innovative planting techniques. Vertical gardens, with plants adorning walls and structures, and green roofs, incorporating trees and plants atop buildings, are increasingly popular in the city. These methods maximize the benefits of green spaces in densely populated areas, improving air quality and providing insulation.

A City of Many Colors: Distinctive Tree Populations Across Seoul

As you traverse Seoul’s different regions, the distinct tree populations will reveal the city’s arboricultural story. The city center is characterized by ginkgo, zelkova, and maple trees, while the southern region boasts a mix of pine and oak. The northern and eastern regions showcase a blend of native and exotic species, adding to the city’s diverse tree population.

Roots in History: Ancient Kingdoms and Dynasties

The roots of Seoul’s arboriculture stretch back to the ancient kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula. Trees were considered sacred and were planted to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits. Through the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, royal gardens flourished, and natural landscapes were preserved and enhanced, setting the stage for the city’s modern arboriculture.

Iconic Trees and Historical Events

Seoul’s arboricultural history is marked by several iconic trees and historical events. The ginkgo tree, the official tree of Seoul, is revered for its longevity and resilience. The annual cherry blossom festival at Yeouido Park attracts millions of visitors, while the zelkova tree is often used in traditional Korean gardens for its elegant shape and structure. The establishment of the Korea Forest Service in 1967 marked a significant step towards sustainable arboriculture in Seoul.

Trees as Environmental Champions

Today, trees are integral to Seoul’s environmental initiatives, playing a crucial role in mitigating climate change, reducing the urban heat island effect, and improving air quality. The “Million Trees Planting Project,” launched in 2014, aimed to plant a million trees in the city to combat air pollution and create a healthier urban environment.

The Soul of the City: Trees Defining Neighborhoods and Atmosphere

Seoul’s diverse tree species not only contribute to its aesthetic atmosphere but also help define the different neighborhoods throughout the city. From the serene ambiance of traditional hanok villages adorned with willows and ginkgos to the modern city center where zelkovas and maples stand tall, each neighborhood has a unique identity rooted in its distinct tree population.

A Living Museum: Namsan Park and Urban Forests

One of the city’s most treasured green spaces, Namsan Park, is home to over 600 different species of trees, offering a rich biodiversity within the heart of the city. These urban forests serve as a living museum of Seoul’s arboriculture, providing a natural retreat amidst the bustling urban landscape and helping combat air pollution and noise.

Seoul’s Future: A Continued Commitment to Arboriculture

As the city continues to grow, so does its commitment to maintaining a harmonious balance between urbanization and arboriculture. Seoul’s dedication to preserving and expanding its urban forests ensures that future generations can experience the enchanting beauty and serenity that trees bring to the city.

From the ancient roots of its arboricultural heritage to the innovative practices of today, Seoul’s love affair with trees is an ongoing journey that continues to shape the city’s identity and future. As you wander through Seoul, take a moment to appreciate the trees that stand as living testaments to the city’s rich history, diverse culture, and unwavering commitment to a greener tomorrow.

12 Trees that Define Seoul:
Common NameBotanical NameNative/Exotic
Korean Red PinePinus densifloraNative
ZelkovaZelkova serrataNative
GinkgoGinkgo bilobaNative
Japanese Pagoda TreeStyphnolobium japonicumExotic
Sawleaf ZelkovaZelkova abeliceaNative
Korean Mountain AshSorbus alnifoliaNative
CamelliaCamellia japonicaNative
Korean WhitebeamSorbus commixtaNative
Cherry BlossomPrunus serrulataExotic
Goldenrain TreeKoelreuteria paniculataNative
Amur MapleAcer ginnalaNative
LindenTilia amurensisNative
Further reading links for arboriculture in Seoul:
  1. Seoul Metropolitan Government – Urban Forestry Division: https://english.seoul.go.kr/policy-information/environment-green/urban-forestry/
  2. Korea National Arboretum: https://www.forest.go.kr/kna/eng/main.do
  3. Korea Forest Service: http://english.forest.go.kr/newkfsweb/html/HtmlPage.do?pg=/am/am_0100.html&mn=KFS_02_01_01
  4. The Seoul Institute – Urban Green Spaces: https://www.seoulinstitute.kr/eng/urbandata/greenspace/
  5. Seoul Botanic Park: https://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Seoul-Botanic-Park_/36292
  6. Urban Forest Research Center: https://www.ufrc.re.kr/eng/



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