The romance of “April snow” and “May snow”
The Tung Blossoms (油桐花) (Latin name: Vernicia fordii) that line mountains and hillsides around the country in April and May are very popular in Taiwan. Taiwanese people often refer to Tung Blossoms as “April Snow” or “May Snow” (depending on when they are in full bloom) and their arrival attracts people from all over the country.
The Tung tree is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 meters tall and is endemic to south China and Burma was originally brought to Taiwan by the Japanese during the occupation period and was planted in mountainous areas in north-western Taiwan.
The Hakka connection
The cultivation of the tree was important economically to the Hakka people who lived in the areas where the trees were planted and thus started a long-lasting relationship between the Hakka people and the tree that continues
to this day.
The Hakka culture is one of the most important in Taiwan: islandwide, around one in seven Taiwanese identifies as Hakka. And the northwestern counties of Hsinchu and Miaoli – the best places to appreciate tung blossoms – are both majority Hakka. Their unique dialect is quite distinctive from Mandarin or Hoklo, the local language also known as Taiwanese or Minnanhua.
Hakka families from mainland China began migrating to the island during the era of Kangxi (reigned 1661–1722), the Qing emperor of China who oversaw the incorporation of Taiwan into his empire in 1684. Because most of the lowlands were already occupied by Hoklo-speaking settlers, Hakka pioneers headed into the rugged foothills.
The flower, the seed
The tree’s seeds contain a water-resistant oil, prized by makers of boats, furniture and paper umbrellas, while its wood was also crafted into furniture and household objects. Since the trees were primarily cultivated in places with large Hakka populations, tung oil and wood became important sources of income for many members of Hakka people.
Take your pick: a half-day trip from Taipei, or enjoy April or May snow every day
If you are a little bit lazy and don’t wish to stray too far from Taipei, consider hiking the Tucheng Tung Blossom Trail, which is southwest of the city and takes around three hours. The beginning of the path is within walking distance of Yongning Station on Taipei Metro’s Blue Line. The other major area with trails can be found in the Sanzhi district northwest of the city.
Alternatively, you can go find some tung flowers every day of your trip. There are many beautiful trails across the island. The official hakka Tour website (https://romantichakka.com) that has a lot of infomration in English lists popular viewing spots for the Tung Blossom Festival, with directions as well as status reports as to which location has trees with flowers beginning to blossom and which are in full bloom.