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Wonderland of colour
2003 / May

The great diversity of Turkey's geography and climatic conditions, from vast plains to alpine pastures, glacier lakes to sandy coasts provides habitats for many thousands of plant species. A white snowdrop lifts its delicate head above the snow in early spring; the crimson blooms of tulips carpet Muş Plain with fiery colour in late April and early May; white sea lilies bloom on sandy beaches in the summer; grape hyacinths blaze everywhere from high mountains to the coasts. Even in the early spring and late autumn bulbous plants like these paint a colourful tapestry. Turkey is one of the foremost countries in the world for flowering plants, home to 10,765 flowering species and ferns, of which one third are endemic; in other words one plant in three does not grow naturally anywhere else in the world.

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Wonderland of colour
2003 / May

The coutry'se abundant water sources, wide altitude range, and habitats ranging from forest, steppe and sand dunes to wetlands, marshes and peat bogs, geological and geomorphological diversity, and the wide range of climate zones all contribute to this floral diversity. Other important factors are the coutry'sn location at the junction of the Euro-Siberian, Mediterranean and Iranian-Turanian phytogeographic regions, and the fact that it is a crossroads between the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Bulbous plants are among the loveliest species of all. Their bulbs which store nutrients beneath the soil feed the showy flowers that appear each season. Although their flowers wither and die, their bulbs live for many years. The homely onion (Allium cepa) is an example of this type of plant, which can be grown either from bulbs or seeds. Turkey's flora include 688 wild bulbous species, and some genera, such as fritillaria and crocus, are represented by more species in Turkey than in any other country.

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Wonderland of colour
2003 / May
In other words, Anatolia is the genetic centre for these flowers. Since rainfall is plentiful in spring and autumn when bulbous plants bear their flowers and seeds, and the weather is dry in summer when the bulbs are dormant, the Anatolian climate is perfect for these plants. Many native species, whose beautiful blooms are often enhanced by their fragrance, find their way to Europe as garden flowers. In the mountain villages of Anatolia local people gather the wild bulbs for export mainly to the Netherlands, from where they are distributed to other European countries and America. Prior to the 1990s this trade was carried on indiscriminately, without any legal controls to prevent excessive harvesting, but today regulations are enforced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Exported species include the snowdrop (Galanthus), fritillaria, the snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), Scilla bifolia and sea squill (Urginea maritima).
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Wonderland of colour
2003 / May

Tuberous perennials like cyclamen, anemones and winter aconite (Eranthis) are also exported. Some of Turkey's bulbous plants are of pharmacological importance, such as sea squill, whose bulbs provide the active ingredient for some heart medicines. This species has a large bulb and produces numerous small whitish flowers in autumn. It flourishes in sandy soil, mainly on the forest floor and in glades of Turkish pine in the Mediterranean region of western and southern Turkey, at an altitude of 300 metres. An endemic species of grape hyacinth (Muscari muscarimi) was prized for its scent and cultivated as a garden plant in Ottoman times, when perfume made from its blossoms was used by Turkish women. Trade in flowering bulbs poses serious conservation problems for Turkey. The Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (DHKD) has launched a project to increase public awareness of exported species, under which a collection has been created at Atatürk Arboretum in Istanbul's Belgrad Forest.

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Wonderland of colour
2003 / May
They can also be seen in Özgürlük Park in the district of Göztepe in Istanbul during the flowering season.

* Professor Dr Neriman Özhatay is a lecturer in Pharmaceutic Botany at Istanbul University's Faculty of Pharmacy
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