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Autumn Leaves, Autumn Hands

Leaves from Bukhansan

Two weeks ago I spent time hiking at Bukhansan with my friend Layna, which resulted in the above photo. Now that the temperature is growing cooler leaves are starting to change color to create scenes of red, orange, and yellow across the mountainsides. This is one advantage to living in Uijeongbu, as the city is surrounded by mountains on three sides and offers some very nice autumn scenery. Brian in Jeollanam-do just posted an entry on where to admire fall foliage in and around Jeollanam-do that offers some great suggestions for the southern reaches of Korea, and for a look at the peninsula in general, David Hasenick offers the following information, originally from the Korean Meteorological Administration:

A better view of the dates can be accessed via the Korean Tourism Organization website here. That website also mentions that "first colors" is when 20% of the mountain foliage has changed colors, while "peak colors" is when 80% has changed. For a bit of vocabulary, the Korean word 단풍 (丹楓; danpung) refers to autumn leaves that have changed color, 단풍이 들다 is used to describe leaves changing colors to any of the autumn hues, and 단풍놀이 is 'an excursion for viewing scarlet maple leaves [autum leaves]'.

Another indication that autumn has arrived is the sight of female students - as well as a few boys - painting their fingernails orange. This is something that I've been meaning to write about ever since I came to Korea two years ago, but could never remember the name at home and never thought to write it down after hearing my students talk about it in class. However, Breda in Korea has a write-up about it that mentions how the orange color is the result of a dye made from the flowers of 봉선화 (鳳仙花; bongseonhwa) -- Impatiens balsamina, also known as the Garden Balsam and Touch-Me-Not in English.

봉선화 from 제주특별자치도 :: 게시판

You can see a picture of what the dye looks like on someone's hands via this image from blogger Back 2 Seoul. And why would anyone want to stain their fingers like that? Based on the accounts of my students and a former coworker, if one's nails are still orange by the time the first snow falls they will marry their true love. The dye tends to last for quite some time and it's not uncommon to see students' fingernails grow out before the dye has faded from their fingers and nails. For directions on how to do it yourself check out this page from Jeju Life, which comes complete with the Korean names of the supplies you'll need.

The Wikipedia page for Impatiens balsamina states that the species is native to India and Myanmar and has variations with white, purple, orange, or red flowers. It also cites an article (no longer accessible) which claims that the plant has a variety of medicinal purposes. Meanwhile, the entry on the genus Impatiens seems to suggest that several folk remedies involving this plant haven't been confirmed through clinical studies. However, from a genetic standpoint I was most struck by the following passage(s):

Impatiens is rather closely related to the carnivorous plant families Roridulaceae and Sarraceniaceae. Peculiar stalked glands found on balsam sepals secrete mucus and might be related to the structures from which the prey-catching and -digesting glands of these carnivorous plants evolved. Balsams are not known to be protocarnivorous plants however.
At least certain jewelweeds and the Garden Balsam contain the naphthoquinone lawsone, a dye that is also found in Henna (Lawsonia inermis) and responsible for the hair coloring and skin coloring in mehndi. In ancient China, Impatiens petals mashed with rose and orchid petals and alum were used as nail polish: after leaving the mixture on the nails for some hours, it will color them a pink to reddish hue. Similar to the case of α-Parinaric acid, the henna plant is a Lythraceae and as such also not closely related to the balsams.

Here's to hoping that Wikipedia information is accurate. You can see 봉선화 petals here from Salon de kkommy and here from pullip, flowers and more information (in Korean) here from 식물과사람들, and a nice close-up of the related Impatiens glandulifera on Flickr from user photosan0.


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