Kim Jung Il begonia growing at Moulton College

One of the most important aspects of the reign of the North Korean dictator, the late Kim Jong Il remains alive and well at a further education college on the outskirts of Northampton in the UK.

Begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ - image: Dr Russell Sharp
Begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ - image: Dr Russell Sharp

Dr Russell Sharp and his team of horticultural research staff at Moulton College have for the past year cultivated a Begonia named after the ‘dear leader’ of the hermit state. 

Begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ was bred by Japanese horticulturists to honour the dictator in the 1980s and has been used to reinforce his ‘cult of personality’ in communist North Korea ever since.

It is thought that the cultivation of this ornamental Begonia is compulsory for North Koreans, despite chronic food shortages meaning that cultivation of a food crop is probably a better alternative.

There is an annual flower show where Kimjongilia is the dominant flower in displays, with smaller displays of ‘Kimsungia’, a variety of Dendrobium orchid named after the founder of North Korea and father of Kin Jong Il.

Dr Sharp has been studying Asian crops that could be cultivated on farms in the East Midlands and obtained tubers of the Begonia as a curiosity for his students to propagate.  The researchers at Moulton College believe that they are the only people cultivating this variety in Great Britain.

He said: "The story behind this variety and how it is used is fascinating.  It produces a lovely large red flower but does not live up to the hyperbole that is used to extol its virtues in North Korean propaganda, such as the songs that school children have to sing about the flower’s beauty."  

The study of horticulture in North Korea is not just for novelty value as the political isolation of the country and subsequent trade embargos mean that it has had to produce food and ornamental plants largely free from outside assistance and petrochemicals. Therefore the study of their horticulture industry could give tips and strategies for the cultivation of food and ornamentals if ‘peak oil’ and ‘peak phosphorus’ is realised in future decades in the rest of the world.  

Dr Sharp’s team of researchers spent 2011 travelling throughout East Asia studying the production of edible and ornamental crops in China, Korea and Japan. They are now focused on developing field trials of crops such as Chinese Yams, Bamboo and Burdock to meet the current demands for authentic Asian Cuisine.

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