Friday, July 2, 2010

Doraji - The Bellflower

Doraji, doraji, doraji! 
I walk over the pass where doraji flowers bloom.
It is a path that is familiar to me.
Doraji, doraji, doraji! 
I look at these white flowers that remind me of my mother,
in the evening with the twinkling stars.
Doraji, doraji, doraji! 
When I wear these white flowers on my hair, 
it reminds me of my young days and my dreams.
---Korean Folk Song, Doraji Bellflower Song.

Plants have a way of taking root in the human consciousness to the point that they become personal, familial, ethnic or national symbols.  Can one mention shamrock, thistle, edelweiss, iris, tulip or rose without a country coming to mind?  Why?  Familiar plants and terrains, familiar beauties and histories, personal and collective memories, shared pathos of grief, love, longing and home.

Doraji (bellflower) possesses particular poignancy for Koreans who are separated from their loved ones and freedom by totalitarianism.  (Photo attributed to

Doraji is planted deeply in the hearts of Koreans.  Its native range also includes Japan and China, so Doraji is a part of those cultures, as well.

It is known to us by its English names, Bellflower or Balloon flower, or by its botanical name, Platycodon grandiflorus (pronounced plat-ee-KO-don gran-di-FLOR-us) which means "broad bell, large flowers."  In the language of flowers, bellflower means "thinking of you" with grief implied.

Hungry, needy and wise people have always discovered good uses for the plants around them.  Though they may have never heard of Hippocrates, his wisdom seems to be universal.  "Let food be your medicine."  Chinese emphasized the medicinal properties of doraji roots while Koreans chose to eat them for pleasure -- perhaps to the same end.  Anyway, it's no surprise that Koreans shared a favorite doraji (bellflower) root-gathering song.

Doraji! Doraji! White Doraji!
In the deep, deep forest,
Even after digging only one or two roots,
My basket is overflowing.

Doraji (Platycodon grandiflorus) is a herbaceous (non-woody) perennial that may reach 24" height or more when in bloom with a similar spread.  Newer cultivars may be more compact.  Leaves are dark green, egg-shaped and and pointed.  Blue, pink or white star-shaped flowers, like a pentagram, appear from mid-summer to early fall.

To avoid confusion, you must know that there is another plant that goes by the name Korean bellflower.  Its botanical name is Campanula takesimana.  Though it is a member of the same family, Campanulaceae, Korean bellflower must not be confused with our subject, Platycodon grandiflorus.

In its native habitat, doraji may be found in abundance.  Few gardeners would devote a garden to it, but that would be their mistake.  A mass planting can be spectacular in naturalized meadows.  It's also very effective in mixed perennial borders.  Doraji is also effective in cutting gardens, and herb gardens.  It's perfect for gardens with oriental themes.  The dried, paper-thin blooms are wonderful in dried flower arrangements.

Doraji is deer resistant.

Doraji (bellflower) is generally hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 9, preferring full sun or partial shade.  Well-drained soil is essential.  Preferred soil pH should range from 6.1 to 7.8.  Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service Office for proper analysis.  You may pay a small fee.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12" to 18" apart for the species, or 10" to 12" apart for compact cultivars. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant doraji with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  The greatest cause of failure is over-watering.

For cutting and drying, clip doraji with small hand clippers just after flower buds open when dew has dried.  Hang stems upside down to dry in a warm, dry, shady area.  The cuttings should dry within a week.

You might think that a plant as exotic as this would be difficult to grow.  It is not.  Doraji (bellflower) is a plant for beginners.  It may even become your favorite.  I wouldn't be surprised if you began singing your own song about doraji.

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Sueann said...

What a great article. My daughter is in kindergarten with a little Korean girl and they will be performing the Doraji song on fine arts day. I know this is a long shot, but do you know of any US suppliers for artificial Doraji?

GoGardenNow said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry I don't know of any US suppliers.