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Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2000

The wild daffodils of Awaji Island


By GERARD TAAFFE

Awaji Island (area 590 sq. km), administratively part of Hyogo Prefecture, is located in the Inland Sea between Kobe and Tokushima in Shikoku. It is the largest island in the Inland Sea, and was once a separate province.

In southern Awaji is a group of relatively low mountains known as Yuzuriha Sanchi, stretching from Sumoto City to Nandan-cho, about 30 km as the crow flies. Near Sumoto is Mount Kashiwara (569 meters); the highest of them is Mount Yuzuriha (608 meters), which overlooks picturesque Numa Island and the busy Kii Strait.

Mount Yuzuriha, Numa Island and an area of land close to Sumoto form part of the Seto Naikai National Park. I have been to Awaji several times, but never to this area. When I set out from my apartment early one January morning my main purpose was to see the wild daffodils (suisen). It would be a shame, though, not to say something about the rich natural flora close to the suisen areas.

From Kobe, Awaji is an easy day trip. My first stop was Benten-jima in Nishidan-cho. This tiny island, just outside Nandan-cho harbor, is linked to the shore by a high-arched metal bridge. In the center of the island is the small shrine from which it takes its name.

Here we can see Japanese black pine (kuromatsu, Pinus thunbergii) growing close to the sea. Black pine has needles in pairs, each 7-10 cm long and quite stiff; the red pine (akamatsu, P. densiflora), in comparison, has relatively soft needles in groups of three to five. In among the pine trees was an evergreen oak (ubamegashi, Quercus phillyraeoides), a species often grown as a garden hedge. Its tough, leathery leaves are small and roundish with small teeth around the edge.

Growing on the rocks in full sun was the silver leaf (tsuwabuki, Farfugium japonicum), a fall-flowering evergreen herbaceous perennial.

Not far from the silverleaf, also growing on the rocks in full exposure to sun and the sea spray, was the memorial rose (teri-no-ibara, Rosa wichuriana). This prostrate creeping rose grows wild along the coast of the Japanese islands (except Hokkaido), Korea and China. Its 3-cm white flowers bloom in bunches in early summer; the small, leathery leaflets are highly resistant to mildew. The name "memorial rose" comes from its use as a ground cover on graves in the United States.

Leaving Benten Island I drove along the narrow, winding coast road toward Nandan-cho. The nearby Naruto Bridge looked very impressive. I ate my bento by the side of a very quiet road overlooking the beautiful sea, where powerful whirlpools form in the narrow strait.

After lunch I headed straight down the coast on Route 76 to Kuroiwa to see the blossoming suisen, where the Yuzuriha Mountains run steeply down to the sea. Aside from some fishing hamlets, there are very few houses along the road to Sumoto.

There are an estimated 5 million bunch-flowering narcissus (Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis) growing in Kuroiwa; a local man informed me that they started from a small number planted about 200 years ago for the cut-flower industry. I had come at the right time. The scent of the flowers filled the air.

Narcissus is the botanical name for daffodils. (The name tazetta is Italian, meaning a small cup, referring to the flower.) There are 11 divisions of Narcissus and an estimated 50 species, chiefly in the Mediterranean region. Narcissus tazetta is the most widely distributed, with subspecies and varieties found from the Canary Islands through the Mediterranean, Central Asia and on into China. It is not native to Japan, but is naturalized all along the coast as far as the Kanto.

This daffodil's leaves are fleshy, sea-green in color, narrow (8-15 mm) and long (20-40 cm). The flowering stems are 20-40 cm long, and the flowers are borne in bunches (hence the name) of five to eight flowers. The decorative part of the flower is made up of two parts: the perianth which is cream-white, and the corona, which is orange-yellow and cup-shaped, measuring about 1.5 cm. There are six perianth petals, each 1.5 cm long and joined to the corona on the lower end. This Narcissus species produces no seed; instead they reproduce by offsets or tiny bulblets. The flowers open as early as December and continue until April, although in Kuroiwa they finish flowering around Feb. 15.

In plants of this kind the bulbs act as a storehouse and the leaves as food factories. It is necessary to let the leaves die back naturally. Some people cut them, but this deprives the plants of vital energy for next year's bulbs.

In Kuroiwa the suisen are fed with a balanced fertilizer after they have finished flowering, although narcissus require very little nitrogen (chisso). One 20-kg bag of fertilizer is sufficient to cover all the suisen in this area, I was told. The operation takes only 30 minutes. The suisen area is not touched again until October, when the waist-high weeds that have grown up during the long hot summer are cut down with brush-cutting machines.

About 15 km farther along the coast road in the direction of Sumoto there is another suisen-growing area. While driving along I made a number of stops to look at the local flora. In Nakatsu-gawa the road climbs up the steep mountainside, and on either side you can see the natural evergreen laurel forest (shoyo-jurin) mixed together with deciduous woodland.

At the bottom of this climb I saw the wild Japanese pepper plant (futo-kazura, Piper kadzura). The seaside below the Yuzuriha Mountains is the only place in Hyogo Prefecture where the Japanese pepper grows wild. It can also be found in the southern part of Wakayama Prefecture. An evergreen, it climbs tree trunks, clinging by its aerial roots (kikon). Its green, hanging, 3-8-cm-long flowers bloom in May or June, and the red fruits ripen from December to March.

A first for me was taimin-tachibana, a small evergreen shrub that grows on the forest floor beneath taller trees. The botanical name is Myrsine seguinii, and it is a member of the yabu-koji ka or Myrsine family. The commonly cultivated manryo (Ardisia crenata) is in the same family. The flowers are tiny, borne along the stem from March to April.

It was a pleasant drive up through this natural forested countryside. The woodland changed from mixed evergreen and deciduous to pure stands of evergreen ubame-gashi. There were also stands of yama-momo (Myrica rubra), another evergreen tree.

Then as I drove around a bend in the road I was shocked to see huge tracts of this magnificent woodland gone, clear-cut, nothing left but bare ground. A local lady told me that a man from Shikoku had bought the forest from Sumoto City, clear-cut the timber and transported it back to Shikoku!

If land within a national park is not safe from developers, what is? While Hyogo Prefecture has been spending huge sums of money in preparation for this year's Japan Floral 2000 on the other end of the island, facing toward populous Kobe and Osaka, it seems the Yuzuriha Mountains National Park, unseen, is being quietly forgotten. There is not even a park center to inform people about the plants that grow here.

This woodland is a national treasure. It is supposed to be protected. To allow such pillaging to take place is beyond negligence. It is corruption.

Despite this shock, my day trip to Awaji was very rewarding, and I aim to go back in May to see wild flowers. Perhaps I will spend a night in a youth hostel or in one of the many minshuku on the island.

Entry to the suisen area is 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. For further information on the wild suisen, call (0799) 56-0720.


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