In search of endemic bulbous and herbaceous plants of Turkey
by Bernd Mengel
From the 1st to the 22nd of May, 1999 I studied the Turkish flora from northwest to southwest Turkey. In Istanbul I had the opportunity to meet with Professor Nereman Oezhatay in the Institute of Pharmacy at the University of Istanbul. He helped to identify some of the plants I found on my tour through western Turkey, and, with Andrew Byfield from Fauna and Flora International, to discuss conservation issues regarding the Turkish flora. During the first days in Istanbul, I met with Sema Atay, a colleague of Andrew Byfield, who gave me the opportunity to drive with her to the Ataturk Arboretum where she is in charge of the maintenance of a small plant conservation garden. It is at present largely devoted to bulb cultivation, but in time will be expanded to include other groups of Trukish native plants. Part of its aim relate to ex-situ conservation, but its principal use is as an educational facility. The following paragraphs are a short extraction of the main report to give the reader an idea of the vegetation I saw during this study trip.
My first stop outside Istanbul on the Asian mainland of Turkey was at Bursa, the foot of the 2543m high Ulu Dag. On a cloudy afternoon I was driven to the ski resort of Ulu Dag (1850-1900m) where we took a break near a mosque (1630m). Clumps of Musacari armeniacum were in flower amongst prostrate Juniperus species. The surrounding forest, mainly Abies nordmanniana ssp. Bornmuelleriana, which were covered in moss and lichen, consisted at this time of withering or closed flowers (due to the bad weather) of Crocus gargaricus ssp. Herbertii, growing in shallow coniferous humus. The ski-resort consisted of about ten ski hotels next to each other and many new ones under construction. Conservationists consider some plant species to be under threat, mainly caused by people picnicking on the mountain — in good weather, sometimes several thousand a day.
After stops at Bergama and near Denizli, I spent two days around Daça, a small coastal town on the peninsular Resadiye Yarimadasi, which extends from near Marmaris westwards in to the Aegean Sea. The vegetation, which is termed garrigue, consisted mainly of dwarf shrubs about 50cm high and dominated by Cistus creticus, C. parviflorus and C. salviiflorus. From a `bulb interested’ point of view, this vegetation can be rather interesting since many bulbous plants are adapted to such habitats. The abundance of dried-out inflorescences of Urginea maritima, which are toxic to grazing animals, and the various narrow tracks I walked along were clear indications of sheep and goats which seemed to graze the whole hill. Towards the top, I found Euphorbia acanthothamnos, which formed large spiny cushions amonst rocks near a wild olive tree.
From Daça I travelled eastwards to the Fethiye area, which was my last base in southern Turkey. Near the snow covered mountains behind Fethiye, I stopped a farmer who had just sown peanuts into his field with the aid of an ox. The following day, he went with me up the mountain where we found, amongst other plants, the endemic Eremus spectabilis on a steep slope at about 2,000m. After we came back from the mountain, he also invited me for a small evening meal. There, I was able to enjoy the Turkish basic, but kind and somehow admirable, rural lifestyle.
The most beautiful plants I found on the whole trip were just behind Fethiye near sea level: a population of Allium amethystinum with a flower head of about 5-6cm in a brownish, wine-red colour, the flowers of which the pedicel seemed to elongate to stand the flower upright at anthesis with a total length of about 3-4cm. The plants varied in height from 1.2 to 1.6m, and possessed withered leaves at flowering time.
To search for the, for me legendary, Liquidambar orientalis woodlands, I spent my last day in the south of Turkey near Dalyan by Ortaca. The woodlands I was looking for are the last relics of a genus that was, in the Tertiary, spread over parts of Europe, but could not spread again after the last ice age. The woodland I found was covered in Smilax excelsa and Lonicera species. The tree roots were partially washed out by water and tapering into the stream, which gave this woodland a mysterious character. The Liquidambar trees also had large patches of missing bark, a sign that these trees are still used to produce the exudates amber or Levant storax (the balsam of Gilead of the Bible), which is used for its scent and medicinal purposes. Near that area also grew the newly described Iris xanthospuria.
To organise and undertake my first study trip was a great experience, enjoyable and very useful to help grow such plants more appropriately in ex-situ situations. For me, Turkey remains a country that needs to be visited more than once. Plans where to go next already exist to look at other aspects of this fascinating country. I am most grateful to the Kew Guild for the generous contributions that helped make this tour possible.