The Daylilies of Taimali
Text: Joe Henley
Photos: Sachiko Kishimoto
In late summer, the orange blossoms of daylilies cover the rolling hills of Taimali, a township in southeastern Taiwan. Visiting the area, you can enjoy a great combination of marvelous scenery and unique cuisine.
Toward the southern end of Taitung County lies a coastal strip of land fronted by the endless blue waters of the Pacific and backed by the southern mountains of the Central Mountain Range. With a history of human settlement going back a millennium, Taimali Township, the main village of which is located on a coastal alluvial plain, first attracted an indigenous people, ancestors of the Paiwan Tribe, later followed by others. Thanks to its abundant sunlight and fertile soil, Taimali today remains a place where numerous agricultural products are grown. Chief among them are the bright orange-and-gold daylilies, which carpet the steep mountainsides and manmade terraces during the summer months.
Stepping out of the small Taimali Railway Station after a quick 20-minute trip from Taitung City, I was greeted by an expansive view of the sea spread out before me, beyond a wide street angling down toward the sparkling water. However, I was not headed down toward the beach, but up into the hills to Jinzhen (Daylily) Mountain. In order to reach the daylily farms, my traveling companions and I had arranged for a taxi to shuttle us around for the day. However, during the flower season (August~ September) there are also tourist buses that take travelers on day-trips to the various farms dotting the mountain.
Up we climbed, slowly traversing a winding road higher and higher into the hills. Stopping at a viewing point beside a roadside watermelon stand, we took in a vista encompassing Green Island to the north and Lanyu (Orchid Island) to the south. Signs pointed the way to the “Flowers Route,” but we had yet to sight any specimens of our soil-bound quarry. Then, as we hit an elevation of around 600 meters above sea level, there they were, blossoming petals curling up and outward, black stamens raised toward the life-giving orb blazing brightly in the early-morning sky. After a drive of around 25 minutes, we had entered daylily country.
There they were, blossoming petals curling up and outward, black stamens raised toward the life-giving orb blazing brightly in the early-morning sky
Our first stop was Ching Shan Farm, the farm that started the floral feast, so to speak, in this idyllic corner of Taiwan. The family that runs the farm, which came to the region from the county of Chiayi in Taiwan’s southwest, was the first to cultivate daylilies here, back in the early 1950s. When others saw the family’s success they soon followed suit, and the hills took on a rapidly expanding late-summer orange hue set against the deep green of the dominant mountain foliage. Even at Ching Shan Farm’s modest elevation the weather is noticeably cooler than that at sea level, a pleasant surprise on an otherwise sweltering summer day. Butterflies, some as large as small birds, flitted about among the wide patches of blossoms tumbling down toward the valley below. Our table at the farm’s restaurant afforded us an impressive view of mountain and sea.
Ching Shan Farm specializes in dishes made using the daylily as the main ingredient. We first sampled some daylily soup, the broth reminiscent of vegetable soup, with the faint but noticeable natural sweetness of the lily adding a pleasant floral note. Next was daylily buns, also just a touch sweet, nicely complimented by cheese added to the dough for contrast. Then there were fresh-fried daylily buds, their seasoning countering the sweet highlights with an appealing savoriness. Smooth jazz played softly over the restaurant’s sound system as we sat back, sipped on cups of coffee, and watched white clouds roll slowly down the mountain slopes. Ching Shan Farm is a place to slow down, take in the saccharine scent of flowers on the breeze, and contemplate the impossible beauty laid out before you.
Our next stop took us further up the mountain road, the slow drive allowing more time to appreciate the tranquil isolation and peace that only such stone sanctuaries can provide. Continuing along the Flowers Route, we drove upward for another 20 minutes or so, rounding the end of the valley that rises from Taimali village to the side opposite Ching Shan Farm. Where the road ends, we came upon the humble stone-and-mortar structure named Shitou (Stone) Farm. As we walked past buds laid out on large stretches of black canvas to dry in the sun, we were greeted by Peng You-fu, the farm’s patriarch. At 75 years of age, he is a humble, friendly man showing no signs whatsoever of advancing years slowing his stride. Together with his son, Peng Jun-zi, he has worked this land for somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 years, and still shows the reverence and passion – not just for his work, but for its surrounding culture as well – that you might better expect of someone just starting out.
The Pengs, Jr. and Sr., took us through their daily routine, flipping buds that had been laid out on flat wooden racks to dry in the sun, placing an empty rack on top of one covered in buds, then turning it over and placing it back down on the ground, resting on wooden beams. In the drying process the buds lose their orange color, turning a whitish-brown. Jun-zi showed us how they could be eaten raw, offering us some from a handful scooped straight from one of the racks. Indeed, they were soft with a slight crispness to them, something like a legume, and had a natural sweetness similar to that of fruits with a low fructose and glucose content.
We had actually caught the pair in mid-process. These buds had already been steamed in an aluminum vessel placed in a spot overlooking the valley, with a wood-burning fire pit dug into the slope below it. It is the small innovations that make the master, and Jun-zi explained how the steamer is of his own design, built by hand to ensure that smoke escapes and the water that collects on the roof of the vessel runs down its sloped sides and away from the container. This method of preparing daylilies is all-natural – “organic” in the modern parlance.
The process of steaming and drying the buds takes about two-and-a-half days. From start to finish it is a carefully orchestrated symphony of perfect timing. The buds, even after being harvested, are still alive, and will open after midnight that same day unless steamed. During our visit in late August, the Pengs were in the midst of their peak season, lasting from mid-August through September. Jun-zi confided that recently he had been able to sleep for only four hours a night due to the heavy workload he and his father endured. When asked why they did not hire additional hands, he said they had tried bringing in an outside man only once, but had to let him go. The reason: he wasn’t committed enough, as Jun-zi put it democratically, an easy smile lighting up his dark complexion, tanned by years of working outdoors alongside his father. Officially joining the family business over 20 years ago, Jun-zi first began accompanying his father, a former truck driver who transported daylilies around Taiwan from the farms of Taimali, in his fields when he was still in elementary school. The two have been working side by side ever since.
Later, we sat on concrete benches around a flat boulder the two use as a table, which overlooks their crops on the mountainside. Heavy clouds rolled downward past our elevation of over 1,000 meters, dropping short sprinklings of rain on the fields as they moved through. Peng Sr. poured us tea, using small, white porcelain cups, made from leaves plucked from the family’s own garden. The tea is not for sale, they say. It is something to be shared with friends and family. We then took a leisurely stroll around the grounds, father and son looking upon hills they’ve known for decades as though seeing them with fresh eyes. If a man like Peng You-fu can still look at these hills in such a way, imagine how they will look to you when seeing them for the first time.
When You Go: TRA trains run from Taitung City to Taimali township (20 min., NT$53). If you’re driving to Taimali, just follow Provincial Highway No. 9 south from Taitung. For transportation into the mountains, it is possible to book a private taxi driver for the day or for a single one-way trip. Inquire at the train station, and negotiate the price with the driver. A single trip to one of the farms is NT$600-800, depending on the location of the farm; if you hire a driver for half a day, the fare is about NT$2,500. Note that there are numerous homestays (B&Bs) and hotels in Taimali township.
Info about Taimali’s Daylily Season: www.daylily.com.tw/index.php (Chinese)
English and Chinese
|Central Mountain Range||中央山脈|
|Jinzhen (Daylily) Mountain||金針山|
|Lanyu (Orchid Island)||蘭嶼|
Ching Shan Farm (青山農場)
Add:196, Jialun, Dawang Village (Jinzhen Mountain), Taimali Township, Taitung County (台東縣太麻里鄉大王村佳菕196號)
Tel: (089) 781-677, 782-078
Shitou Farm (石頭屋)
Add:112, Minquan Rd., Dawang Village, Taimali Township, Taitung County (台東縣太麻里鄉大王村民權路112號)
Tel: (089) 781-249