I have fallen for Artedia Squamata, a member of the umbelliferous family but known as The Madonna Flower by her friends. A posh cow parsely if ever there was one. I look greedily for ripe seeds of this white disc of lace with a little purple umbel in the middle, but to no avail. A quick search on the web comes up with a mention in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Jordan, and a lovely gardening book from 1807 which says I will struggle to get the seeds ripe enough so must sow the flower in autumn to give it a head start. But it hates the cold and doesn’t like root disturbance. I realise sadly why it is not in general cultivation.
But other plants are more romantic. The Carob Tree, Ceratium siliqua, has biblical stories. Also known as the locust tree, perhaps this is what John the Baptist actually lived off in the dessert instead of the literal honey and locusts. The crown of thorns, so spikey it is used to keep goats off gardens as well as on Jesus’s head, the tares of the fields for those farmers who did not till their land properly, definitely a member of the vetch family, Vicia tetrasperma.
Less biblical but as thorny is the Grasping Lawyer whose spines grab and never let go, a form of wild bryony, and the bitumen plant,
whose smell of tar follows us down the paths through the pine forests down to the cliffs and the sea. Its name Psoralea bituminosa suggests it was used for psoriasis as well.
The orchids vie with the tortoise for attention, with oohs and ahhs as we stand and look at plants pretending to be bees while the tortoises pretend to be boulders, grumpily staring back at us as we disturb their searches for a mate. 5 creatures today but all looked rather chilly after yesterday’s rain. The bee orchids on the other hand were out in abundance, all with different markings. And as for the Bishops beard Orchid, Orchis sancta. I just love its beard.
We eat wild peas, Pisum sativum, as we wander further towards the sea.But the names, it is always the names, why is the tiny little Legousia speculum-veneris known as Venus’s looking glass, a pretty little campanula but hardly exotic. Vipers bugloss in its blue borgainaceae family group, or the hounds tongue, Cynoglossum. Golden drops, the yellow borage plant or the greater madder, actually a close relative of the goose grass. Officinalis in names means the Romans sold them officially in shops for herbal and medicinal properties, and so they could be officially taxed.
But perhaps the oddest of tales behind a plant is the Mandrake, Mandragora autumnalis, related to tomates, potatoes and deadly nightshade. It shreaks when harvested for its roots and strikes dead the person who hears, and its fruit look like green tomatoes but are all poison. Such an ugly fat rosette of leaf, but so mystical.
So Turkey, here on the Anatolian coast, is a true abundance of flowers and verdant nature. The first rich country, with agriculture its wealth. Now it longs for oil and minerals, but its history shows how much wealth it had when the rest of us were still in furs and living hand to mouth. Tomorrow we look at civilisation.