▲ Once used to thatch traditional folk houses, Eulalia is now mostly used to feed grazing animals. It serves a somewhat higher purpose though, in that it has come to represent the hardy spirit of the Jeju people. Photos by Stephanie Reid
Traverse almost any road on Jeju in the autumn and you will be greeted by tall grass stalks topped with feathery white heads. Even the slightest breeze causes them to bob and sway, making their thin seed heads look like delicate fingers on a waving hand. Perhaps that is why the lovely reed is called Eulalia, which is a feminine name meaning “to talk well”.
Eulalia (Miscanthus sinensis) grows worldwide and is known by many other names. The color of the heads is often different depending on the lighting and which variety they are, meaning that the grass has also been called “silver grass” or “purple-silver grass”. When the flowers go to seed, they float on the air in little tufts. Thus, the reed has been dubbed “fairy grass” in some countries. Here on Jeju it is called “eoksae” or “gaeldae”.
There are different plants that represent each season on Jeju. Eulalia reeds symbolize fall, while canola flowers symbolize spring. Many native Jeju people say they have a deeper connection to Eulalia. The hardy perennial reminds them of their own ability to endure harsh winds and infertile soil, in order to survive. Each October, the island celebrates harvest time with a Eulalia festival. Unfortunately, this year’s festivities had to be cancelled due to H1N1 flu precautions.
In some parts of the world, Eulalia is considered an invasive species. However, like most growing things on Jeju, people have found ways to utilize it. Historically, it was dried and used as thatch for rooftops, unlike on the mainland, where rice straw was primarily used. Now, Eulalia can be used for paper pulp, and when planted as a hedge, prevents soil loss. Its main use now, on Jeju, is as feed for horses and cattle. During a trek up Eorimok, I found a horse in a clearing full of it. It was so busy munching that it barely even lifted its head as I approached. Roe deer can also be seen in this area.
In addition, many roads leading to Mt. Halla pass by small fields of the fluffy white plumes. Word has it that Jocheon has many large meadows of Eulalia reeds; however, I personally only found it in small plots, outcroppings, and driveways when I was there. Still, regardless of their numbers, they are always an attractive element to the landscape. If you can catch a spot where they are growing together with Coreopsis stragglers it’s quite a pretty bouquet. Near Jocheon, the nature trail at Hamdeok beach had some nice offerings of Eulalia.
In any spot at sunset, the inflorescence of Eulalia glows gold and pink. In the full sun, the tips look like white cotton threads. The full Chuseok moon behind them reminds us of the bountiful feast we can partake of that day. Since Eulalia is a fall plant, there are several roadside spots where it is planted near gravesites.
If you’re interested in finding a field-full of this plant, the most well known spot is Sangumburi volcanic crater; the slopes leading to the crater are covered with them. It’s a lovely walk with this beautiful grass towering over your head. At the top of the path, there are magnificent views, with the mountain and many oreums in the distance.
The Sangumburi trail is open daily 8a.m. - 6p.m. For holiday hours or information, call 064 783 9900. The entrance fee is 3,000W for adults. There is a gift shop offering souvenirs such as t-shirts and postcards sets depicting autumn scenes. To reach the site, a taxi ride takes 30 minutes and costs 20,000W. The bus ride, which includes a transfer, takes around one and a half hours, but only costs 2,500W.
The Eulalia at Sangumburi are well worth it. If you’re taking photos you could easily spend a couple of hours hiking around the grounds. Don’t wait too long though. Some of them were already going to seed, so there’s probably only a month left to see them. Enjoy!
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