By Kwon Mee-yoo
What contribution have Christmas-unenthusiastic Koreans made to the Western tradition of celebrations on the day when Jesus was allegedly born?
For those who have given up guessing, here is a tip ― check your Christmas tree.
According to Korea's National Institute of Biological Resources (NIBR), it is a Korean fir tree, which he says is one of the most popular trees used for this special occasion, although most Western Christmas enthusiasts may be unaware of this.
The institute is working hard to have its claim officially recognized, as it may enable Korea, as a place of origin, to claim a slice of the profits from their commercial use.
According to the institute, the Korean fir is an indigenous evergreen, which grows on the slopes of Mt. Halla, Mt. Jiri and Mt. Deokyu.
The ``type specimen'' of the Korean fir tree currently belongs to the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S. A European botanist took the specimen out of Korea in 1904 and donated it to the institute.
``It is lucky that there is a type specimen ― even in an overseas location ― to prove the origin of the plant or animal is Korea. There are many more species of our indigenous creatures being used without recognition,'' Kil Hyun-jong of the NIBR said. ``That is why a type specimen is so important as it is proof of origin.''
The NIBR currently houses approximately 1.6 million specimens and expects the number to increase to 5 million by 2030.
The institute estimates at least 20,000 type specimens were taken out of the country and some 280 of those are being used commercially.
Korea plans to insist on a ``recovery of rights'' at the Convention on Biological Diversity next year.
Kil said there will be discussions regarding the right to trade plants and animals. ``We will try to restore our rights for original Korean fauna and flora,'' he added.
Though the tree originated from, and is now growing in Korea, companies in the West recognized the value of the tree first and made profits from it, Kil said.
Other than Korean fir, the Netherlands has type specimen rights to the Korean lily, Hungary has stonefly type specimens and the U.S. has those of the dark sleeper and northern loaches, both fresh-water fish indigenous to Korea, he added.