Thursday, September 25, 2014

Akşam sefası

This plant has acquired romantically inspired names all around the globe; ‘four o’clock marvel’, ‘belle de nuit’ (beauty of night) or ‘marvel of Peru’. Akşam sefası means ‘evening pleasure’ in Turkish. Mirabilis jalapa, the Latin name for this plant, means ‘wonderful Jalapa’, Jalapa being a somewhat common place name in Central America.

Mirabilis jalapa hails from tropical South America, but has become naturalized throughout tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. ‘‘In the cooler temperate regions it will die back with the first frosts and regrow in the following spring from the tubular roots. The plant does best in full sun. It grows to approximately 1 m in height. The single-seeded fruits are spherical, wrinkled and black upon maturity, having started out greenish-yellow. The plant will self-seed, often spreading rapidly if left unchecked in a garden.’’(

M. jalapa is said to have been exported from the Peruvian Andes in 1540. That is when it must have been named marvel of Peru.
Peru does not have an exclusively tropical climate. The Andes Mountains and the ocean current known as the Humboldt Current or the Peru Current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru influence the climate of the country considerably. The climatic diversity within the country creates high biodiversity. Thousands of plants are endemic to Peru. Marvel of Peru might be one of them.

The flowers of Mirabilis jalapa open from late afternoon onward producing a strong, sweet smelling fragrance. This is why the various names for it have the word ‘evening’ or ‘night’ in them.

Another curious aspect of this plant is that flowers of different colors can be found simultaneously on the same plant or on the same flower. It is available in a range of colors.

                                        Photograph: Taken on July 22, 2012 by Gossipguy-

The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued moths and other nocturnal pollinators attracted by the fragrance.

The plant is a natural in the Aegean and I have also grown it in my garden in Montreal.

My aunt used to have a very small, stony grounded courtyard of a garden beside her house in the Aegean Province of Turkey in which I sometimes played all by myself when I was seven-eight years old. The place seemed bigger to me understandably. My friends were a vine that had big red grapes and the akşam sefası. The vine just grew on its own, perhaps planted by a former owner. I remember the grapes being slightly dusty but I ate them anyway. I liked them. The skin on them was a little tough and their taste was a tad spicy. They were not very refined, however, they were not sprayed with any chemicals.

The flowers provided the most entertainment though. They were trumpet like with semi attached petals-sympetalous petals. They had a perfumed smell. As the name of the plant signifies, I marveled at the fact that some of the flowers had two colors while others were yellow or cyclamen solely.

I collected the green or the ripened black seeds until they overflowed my hand.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spiny Restharrow

I am having difficulty confirming the name of the plant I have in mind. In my wonderful old book titled The Natural History of the Mediterranean (by Tegwyn Harris, Pelham Books, 1982) it is specified as Spiny Restharrow and by its scientific name as Ononis spinosa. The illustration and the description provided in the book indicate to me that the plant I have in mind is indeed spiny restharrow, however, when I look it up on the internet under this name I cannot be certain. The pictures do not look like the plant I know.

One reason I can think of for the discrepancy with the pictures I see on the internet is perhaps this plant is different due to climatic conditions in the environment I come across it. A better reason would be that it is a variety of restharrow one does not come across often.

This is a plant native to the Mediterranean. I have always looked for it during my travels in the south of France, in Corsica, along the Amalfi Coast in Italy and in the northern and southern parts of the Aegean shores in Turkey. I have not found it anywhere except around the Kadınlar Denizi beach of Kuşadası in Western Turkey. It does not exist in the surrounding hinterland either.

I am learning that Ononis is a large genus of perennial herbs and shrubs from the legume family Fabaceae. The members of this genus are often called restharrows as some species are arable weeds whose tough stems would stop the harrow. I look up harrow which I learn is a farm implement for breaking up and smoothing out the surface of the soil. My next search is for arable weeds. Arable fields have certain characteristic weed species which would be categorized as arable weeds.

The above illustration in the public domain on the internet is quite similar to the plant I am familiar with.

Here is what my book says about this plant: “Low-lying, straggling; stems stiff, spiny, with slender, zig-zagging branches; flowers pink similar in shape to broom. In sandy and stony places by the sea”.

It is in flower from May to August. It can grow up to 1.50 meters in height. Prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. It can grow in acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils. It has tough roots. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure. This is definitely my plant.

In the following pictures we see the restharrow in very dry soil and in front of a café by the sea where it is watered almost every day.

I pressed and preserved two branches of restharrow, alas, I have not been able to keep its color. I also have a sample of the poorest soil it can grow in.

Spiny restharrow’s habitat is under constant attack. The land on which it grows is increasingly being turned into hotels, malls and beach condos. Apart from its looks-the contrast of its spines and the little delicate pink flowers-another reason I love this plant is that it keeps coming back and making me happy. Just like me, it loves the sun and the sea.

                                                            Kadınlar Denizi in the early 1960s.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coral plant

The coral plant is native to Mexico and grows naturally in Tropical America also. The Latinized name for the coral plant is Russelia equisetiformis. How and exactly when it travelled to where I first met it in the early 1960s is a mystery to me.

Family friends used to have the coral plant in their gardens in pots in the city of Aydın in western Turkey. One beloved neighbor had moved to her new home when I was eleven, twelve years old. She had placed a big coral plant in a pot in the garden, on her front steps. Red was my favorite color and I was just as attracted to the tubular flowers as the hummingbirds. I remember picking them and making chains by placing one into another.

The name Russelia was given to the genus by the Dutch scientist Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin (1727-1817) to honor the Scottish naturalist Alexander Russell (1715–1768). The descriptive second name "like Equisetum" refers to this plant’s resemblance to the horse tail rush (grass like plants). Equisetum derives from the Latin equus-"horse" + seta-"bristle". The plant is a multi-branched subshrub with slender, rush like stems that are angled with ridges and leaves that are reduced to little more than small scales. The wiry branches start out erect then fall over to cascade down in lengths as long as a meter.

I am learning that numerous hummingbird species winter in Southern Mexico, specifically on the Yucatán Peninsula. They migrate north from the Yucatán starting as early as February. Some of them fly across the Gulf. Some are believed to island hop until they reach Florida. Most of them fly along the coast of Texas and further up once they are in the United States. On their way back at the end of the summer they mostly fly along the coast of Texas. This, it is said, may be due to wanting to avoid hurricanes of the season.

Over the winter the hummingbirds spend most of their time gaining weight for their journey. They need the energy, for when they are over water they can travel very long distances. When they reach North America, migration proceeds at an average rate of about 30 kilometers per day. During the winter months when they are getting ready for their long flight the bright red flowers of the coral plant attract hummingbirds to feed on their nectar. The plant produces hanging clusters of scarlet tubular flowers about 2.5 cm long almost continuously throughout the year. Through hybridization there may be pale yellow and white versions also.

This plant can be very lush. The ones I came across and photographed were waiting to be taken to caring homes.
The lady holding my hand in the picture below was our beloved neighbor Hayriye Erbil who had a big pot of coral plant.
I still think about this friend to this day and I also have the beautiful needle-lace doilies she made for my hope chest. There are big ones and smaller ones that make sets for a lemonade service. Who serves lemonade with such fanfare anymore? Special artwork of this kind can only be displayed for what it is, artwork.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Anemones and daisies

The very first plants that left an impression on me as a child were anemones and daisies. They bloomed around the same time of the year in the same places. We used to go on drives along the two lane Izmir highway until about twenty km. out of Aydın and stop by the roadside to gather anemones and daisies in the spring. Spring arrived early, sometimes as early as mid-March in the Aegean region of Turkey where we lived.

The times that I’m talking about are when I was growing up in the 1950’s and onwards. We called the anemones ‘dağ lalesi’ which can be translated as mountain tulip.

Anemones came in many colors and they would still be buds when we picked them; they opened up in our vases. I no longer have the chance to go back to the springs of my childhood. At around the time the plants of my memories began to occupy my thoughts more and more, luckily I came upon Hasan Beden’s Facebook page and by contacting him personally I shared his pictures of anemones taken in the meadows of Bafa Lake and Latmos Mountain regions. He lived and photographed the beauty I could only experience in my mind. Mr. Beden passed away in the spring of 2014 (

                                            Photographs: Hasan Beden in the Bafa Lake region in March

The scientific name of the anemones we picked is Anemone coronaria L. The initial after the name of a plant indicates who first described and named the plant. The L. stands for Carl Linnaeus. In naming plants two words are used. The first word names the genus and the second word names the species the plant belongs to. This system of using binomials to describe a specific plant was begun in the 18th century by the Swedish botanist C. Linnaeus. Since then an International Code of Botanical Nomenclature for naming plants has been developed.

A.coronaria grows naturally in Western Turkey. The flower belongs to the Ranunculaceae family of plants.

We learn from Wikipedia that The Oxford English Dictionary points out that in Greek anemōnē means "daughter of the wind", from ánemos "wind" + feminine patronymic suffix -ōnē. We also learn that the Roman poet Ovid tells in his work the Metamorphoses that the plant was created by the goddess Venus when she sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover Adonis.

Another source tells us that Aphrodite was in love with the handsome Adonis. When one day out hunting Adonis was tragically wounded by his jealous rival the god Ares. Aphrodite rushed to his side and held him in her arms as he was dying. Drops of his blood spilled and became red anemones. Aphrodite looked for him after Adonis had gone to the underworld and she made a bargain with the goddess of the underworld. Adonis would live again; he would come to the hills of Byblos for six months each year during spring and summer, and return to the underworld for fall and winter.

No wonder I find anemones so enchanting.

                                                            Photograph: Hasan Beden

What kind of daisies grew alongside the anemones I can only guess. There are thousands of kinds of daisies and since I have no botanical training I could only discern that the ones I picked were called Leuchanthemum vulgare because the word vulgare defines them as common. The name Leucanthemum derives from the Greek words leukos ("white") and anthemon ("flower").

I loved the simple beauty of the daisies. My mother had told me that pilaf is what I used to call the fields full of daisies. They are of the Asteraceae family. This kind of daisy is native to Europe and the temperate regions of Asia.

I remember how my family would wait for these spring flowers to emerge every year. The times I picked flowers in nature as a little girl are some of the best times of my life.

With my beloved Aunt Ayten