Should you visit North Korea it will not take you long to realise that anything of any importance is named after Kim Il-sung or more recently, since his death in 2011, Kim Jong-il.
It will thus come as no surprise that the most important flowers (trumping the national flower, the magnolia) in North Korea are the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia. Yes indeed, that is what they are called – I kid you not.
What may come as a surprise is that neither of the flowers are natives to North Korea and indeed the Kimjongilia is Japanese. I am not sure how this fits in with the Juche philosophy of self-reliance and independence.
Over their lifetimes, the two Kims have amassed hundreds of thousands of awards and gifts from overseas. These are on display for all to see. Visitors to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (the two Kims’ mausoleum) in Pyongyang can examine two very large rooms full of awards (degrees, certificates etc) and those visiting the International Friendship Exhibition on Mt Myohyang can indulge themselves in two massive buildings full of gifts – noting that numerous live animals also received were donated to the zoo!
The Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia are gifts from Indonesia and Japan respectively.
In 1965, while on a stroll through the Bogor Botanical Gardens in Indonesia with President Sukarno, Kim Il-sung stopped to admire a particular flower – a violet hybrid orchid. Sukarno indicated that the plant had not yet been named and said that he would name it after Kim Il-sung. ‘Modest’ Kim declined Sukarno’s offer but the latter insisted that Kim was entitled to such a great honour for his great exploits, already performed, for the benefit of mankind. So was born the Kimilsungia.
The government owned Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) referred to Sukarno’s gift as “a symbol of the great love and genuine admiration the people of Indonesia have for the Great Leader”.
The Kimilsungia has since become as immortal as the Great Leader himself and each year Kimilsungia flower shows are held throughout the country to coincide with the Great Leader’s birthday. I got to go to two such shows during my visit, one in Pyongyang and one in Sinuiju. I have written a separate review on each show – suffice to say here that it is rather peculiar to attend a flower show basically dedicated to two flowers – the Kimjongilia is also displayed at the Kimilsungia shows though it has its own shows in February.
The Kimilsungia is a tropical plant not at all suited to the harsh climate of North Korea, especially the winters. As such it is grown (in great quantities) in heated glasshouses which get priority in terms of electricity allocation over freezing peasants. During the time of the country’s greatest famines the KCNA reported on how patriotic citizens asked that their home heating systems be shut down so that there was enough electricity to grow the Kimilsungia.
The Kimjongilia, its flower strangely larger than that of the Kimilsungia, is a hybrid tuberous begonia and was cultivated by Japanese botanist Kamo Mototeru to commemorate Kim Jong-il’s 46th birthday in 1988. It represents the Juche revolutionary cause symbolising wisdom, love, justice and peace and friendship between North Korea and Japan.
Anyone who might think that a 98 page book dedicated to a flower (the Kimjongilia with significant reference to the Kimilsungia) would be a fairly heavy and bland reading experience for anyone other than a botanist should pick up a copy of ‘Kimjongilia – The king flower has appeared and spread abroad’ at the Foreign Language Bookshop in Pyongyang. You will find it rather light on botany but heavy on the glorification of Kim Il-sung.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Have a Coke and Choco Pie. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.