▲ Halla's endangered flowering shrub, the dolmahwa. Photo by (Gyul Nara) Kim Chang Wook.
At the top of Mt. Halla grows a small flowering shrub found nowhere else in Korea, although the subspecies is also found in eastern Arctic Russia, Japan, Alaska and the Yukon.
Its botanical name is Diapensia lapponica sub obovata but in Korean it is called the dolmahwa – dol, referring to the ground on which it grows and mahwa, to the flower of the prune or apricot tree that it resembles. Because the area where it grows is off-limits to casual climbers, few non-specialists are aware of its existence, or at least until recently.
A small group of Jeju middle school students has increased the profile of this slight but significant wildflower, introducing it to thousands of people through public activities and on their Web site as part of a Ministry of the Environment youth program. The team is led by 16-year-old Kim Min Kyung of Halla Middle School; accompanied by Kim Yoon Jin, 14 (also at Halla); Kim Ji Woong, 14, (Joong-ang Middle School); Shin Hee Jae, 14, (Shinseong Girls Middle School); and Jang Hye Ryung, 15, (Dong Girls Middle School). They are part of a larger group of 15 middle and high school students that make up “Eco-in Jeju,” which promotes environmental protection on the island.
▲ Students and teachers climb Mt. Halla in search of dolmahwa. Photo courtesy Team Dolmahwa
Leader Min Kyung said Team Dolmahwa was one of 100 teams chosen from 395 applicants to take part in the ministry’s Eco-Walker program, which encourages youth leaders to preserve natural resources. Another Jeju team, from Shinseong Girls High School, is also an entrant in the contest, promoting the hukduroomee, or hooded crane. Their team chose the dolmahwa, Hee Jae said, because “it’s at the highest level of risk and only 2 centimeters high so it is very unique.”
The United Nations designated 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, which was a reason the team chose the plant that is listed as highly endangered.
Once selected to take part in the project, Team Dolmahwa participated in a two-day camp at a youth center in Seoul where they were taught how to run a blog about environmental awareness and resource protection.
“We have been going around tourist attractions to promote and advertise dolmahwa to foreigners and other tourists,” Min Kyung said. “There’s not much that people can do practically because the area where it grows is prohibited. What we mainly do is spread the word about it and promote it.”
Yoon Jin said, “Our activities are also done on the blog. For example, we have uploaded articles about biological preservation.”
It is this blog that will form the basis of the evaluation process, with judges using it to see what the team has done during the month-long project and the level of teamwork involved. The winning teams will receive certificates from the Ministry of the Environment and the Korean Environmental Preservation Association.
The team is not exclusively promoting the dolmahwa, but is also educating others about Jeju indigenous foods, Mt. Halla and the plant species that grow there, team members said. They and family members had the rare chance to see the flower on a special trip to Mt. Halla in July and also met the chief of the Jeju branch of the Ministry of Education because of their project. “He told us we were doing a good job,” Hee Jae said.
They have also gained in other ways from their involvement. “Before the program,” Min Kyung said, “I didn’t mind stepping on flowers or grass or hurting trees but now I have second thoughts about it. I’m also much more knowledgeable about biodiversity than I was before and have been acquiring a lot more knowledge and interest in the environment and the ecosystem.”
She and her fellow team members said their friends and families have also become more environmentally aware because of the program, and possibly so have the more than 24,000 visitors to the Team Dolmahwa blog (blog.naver.com/dolma hwa).
Translation by Chris J. Park.
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