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An Illustrated Dictionary of Urban Plants : Stories of Urban Plants from the Botanical Illustrator Lee So-youngLee So-young

If you look closely at a forsythia, you can see that only the stamen grows longer at the edges, with the short pistils at the center. This makes it impossible for the flowers to pollinate, and there is no fruition either. It can only multiply by human hand, through artificial methods such as cutting. Forsythia is a common plant now, but when it can’t multiply naturally and there is little genetic variety, extinction is its only foreseeable future. When you see forsythias, consider their fate, and look upon them with a kinder eye (p. 40).

『An Illustrated Dictionary of Urban Plants : Stories of Urban Plants from the Botanical Illustrator Lee So-young』

Author : Lee So-young
Publisher : Books on Wednesday
Publication date : October 25, 2019
Number of pages : 288
Format : 121x170mm
ISBN : 9788986022100

Lee So-young

She has a M.A. in horticultural studies and painted botanical lifeforms at the Korea National Arboretum. She illustrates botanical miniatures in collaboration with scholars and research facilities both domestic and abroad, and is the author of Plant Walk and An Illustrated Guide to Korean Herbs.

Looking at the World Through the Eyes of Plants


At parks, roadsides, gardens and even inside homes, plants are a great part of our everyday life. The term “planterior,” meaning interior design using plants, has become a household word in Korea. But how much do we really know about the plants surrounding us? Botanical illustrator Lee So-young is an artist specializing in botanical miniatures who has observed vegetation at close range through cooperation with the Korea National Arboretum, the Rural Development Administration plus other research facilities both domestic and foreign. She suggests that the lifespan of the plants that share our spaces could be lengthened just by picking up basic information on their shapes, names and natural habitats. In An Illustrated Dictionary of Urban Plants, you can find fascinating stories alongside miniature illustrations of such plants as pine trees, ginko trees, forsythias, monstera plants and strawberry bushes – urban plants that have always surrounded us, but we had never paid close attention to.

It is Lee So-young’s job as a botanical illustrator to document plant life here and now in full detail. She records plants that cohabit our space such as the park, arboretum and our homes, including new plants developed by research laboratories that will join our space in the near future –  in other words, plants that have left the woods and have found new homes in the city. As we gradually merge ourselves into her point of view, we find ourselves looking at the world from the perspective of trees. The ginko trees and the cherry trees planted along avenues, black pine and taxus growing in our gardens, tillandsia hanging from cafe ceilings and the apples and grapes on our tables. How did all these plants that began life in the woods, or even further away in a desert, end up beside us in the city?

When flipping through the pages of An Illustrated Dictionary of Urban Plants, one’s perspective naturally shifts from being human-centered to plant-centered. As native dandelions in South Korea are disappearing and are replaced by foreign species, some blame the dandelions that hail from abroad for driving their native counterparts from their own land. But the battle, it turns out, is not between the dandelions. The author tells us that “the reason native dandelions [in Korea] are being pushed out of the woods and declining in number is in fact because of environmental destruction.” As hills are carved and land is filled to make new lots, she explains, native dandelions have disappeared and foreign species have come to take their place.

Ginko trees are another species that suffer from human greed. As the oldest species of trees on earth, it consists of one family, one genus and one species – meaning there is only a single species of ginko trees in its entirety. This has won it special treatment in some other countries, although in South Korea its putrid smell has given it a bad name. Some shake the tree to get rid of the green nuts before they ripen; or resort to planting only the male trees by sorting the female and male of the species to keep the trees from bearing fruit. However, the stench of the ginko nut comes from bilobol and ginkgolic acid, which allows the ginko tree to survive attacks from animals or insects. “It is such a natural process for a plant to bear fruit and spread seeds,” the author writes. “Do we really have the right to artificially put a stop to it?”

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