Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wall barley

Wall barley is a very befitting name for this plant. When I was a child, in the temperate climate of western Turkey this species of grass, together with many other grasses and weeds grew abundantly along the edges of sidewalks and walls, in cracks or in empty lots. These plants were my familiar walking companions. I still look for them when I walk and they don’t disappoint me. I see many of them often along the pavement and in undeveloped lots even at the cooler Montreal zone.

Wall barley is native to Europe, Northern Africa and temperate Asia, and it is widely naturalized elsewhere. It has become widespread and quite common.

Hordeum murinum by its scientific name, wall barley is also known as false barley. Hordeum is a genus of about 30 species of annual and perennial grasses, native to the temperate zones of the world. The word comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘bristle’ and later from Latin ‘to bristle’. The origin of the word barley is just as old. The word barn, which originally meant "barley-house", is rooted in the old words for barley.

One species, H. vulgare which is the barley we know, is the fourth commercial cereal grain in the amount produced and hectares used to grow it for human consumption, as fodder crop to feed livestock and for malting in beer and whiskey production.

With our ‘who cares about weeds’ attitude some species of Hordeum are considered nuisance weeds introduced worldwide by human activities and others are endangered due to habitat loss. Wall barley is among those considered as nuisance weeds unfortunately. Negative descriptions are common about the places it manages to grow such as, waste grounds, urban environment or bare patches.

Wall barley is an annual grass in the grass family Poaceae. The flower heads of wall barley appear during May through July but in warm climates they can last until late fall. The plant can grow up to a meter in height and the flower heads can reach 10 cm long. The leaves can be 8 mm wide and to 8 cm long.
                            My husband Henri Barki in Istanbul in October 2008

The rectangular flower heads are formed by spikelets that are attached at the base and positioned close to each other one above the other in two rows. They have spiky tufts. These look soft but they are clingy. If you walk through a field of H. murinum the tufts may cling on clothes and pet fur. The whole flower head if placed in your garment cuff up-side-down could easily make its way up your sleeve to your shoulder. The spikelets are compressible and the tufts give it a gentle push, whereas the awns on them anchor it so it doesn’t move in the opposite direction.

In many places the sharply pointed seeds are a problem to livestock and sheepdogs. The sharp awns penetrate the flesh of sheep and cattle and sometimes cause death. Wall barley seeds shed in cultivated soil do not exist for more than two years. It is said that a small portion of seeds may have the capability to be dormant but wall barley is not likely to build a large ‘seedbank’ in soil. It still manages to survive and prosper I am glad to say.

Most material on this plant is complex and multi termed botanical information which need not be delved into here. I simply love the fact that it is a common sight along many urban pavements and that it is strong enough to push its way between the cracks in stones or the asphalt. I personally think of wall barley as an old friend that comes to greet me time after time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Crown daisy

In 1959, Kadınlar Denizi Kooperatif Evleri or Kadınlar Denizi Plaj Evleri-Plage Homes as the place is called these days were built. This was a cooperative community, a ‘site’ or a ‘coopératif cité’ as in French. It was one of the first three such summer vacation places in Turkey at the time (Çeşme Ilıca Evleri and Didim Sitesi were the other two).

We moved into our home in 1961. The second half of the month of June when we arrived to spend the summer, the streets were covered with flowers commonly called crown daisy. This is an annual that grows up to 1.2 meters. It is in flower from June to September. We had to walk through a field of them to reach our house. Once the vacationers arrived the flowers had no chance of survival, they were mowed.

The summer of 1961 and maybe the following summer I enjoyed these flowers and then they were gone forever. I don’t see these flowers anywhere anymore to be able photograph them.

  Photograph by Júlio Reis dated May 22, 2002

The scientific name of the plant Chrysanthemum coronarium has been recently changed to Glebionis coronaria. G. coronaria is native to the Mediterranean and East Asia. It is a common flower in anthropized, that is open spaces, landscapes and natural environments converted by human action as opposed to totally built environments: It grows in fields, olive groves and near villages. There are yellow varieties but the one I know is white with some yellow. The middle of the flower is known as the central disk and comprises of the disk florets which are in fact small flowers. The petals that become yellow towards the base are the ray florets. Glebionis coronaria belongs to the aster family Asteraceae.

The place I am thinking of was right by a pristine beach teeming with tiny sand hoppers (Talitrus saltator). In explanation to where the name Kadınlar Denizi-Women’s Beach comes from, there used to be talk about Zeus and his ‘women’ taking a dip here but no mention of such a myth is made any more. There is an old magazine picture shared by all of us who spent the summers of our youth there. About 20 meters from where the girl in the picture is sitting our houses and streets began. Since the ‘90s particularly, the sand is so trampled upon during the long summers of the Aegean that the beach does not support wild life any more. Instead, it is full of seasonal tourists who think they are giving themselves a break.

                                      A magazine clipping from 1959 Source: Mobolla, https://tr-tr.facebook.com/mobolla1

        The Kadınlar Denizi beach in the 2000s.  Even the rocks jutting from the sea were leveled by explosives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bunny tails and immortals

Their names, bunny tails and immortals, bring to mind story book fantasies.  We have yet again two plants that grew in the same places.  

I used to see bunny tails in small vases placed on end tables in family friends’ and relatives’ homes in the 50s. I have a memory of loving it at first site in a great uncle’s home in the city of Tire in western Turkey. On the end tables it decorated, there would also be porcelain figurines beside the vase of bunny tails.

Lagurus ovatus by its scientific name and hare’s tail or bunny tails as it is commonly known, this plant is the sole species in the monotypic genus Lagurus. Monotypic indicates having one representative. The genus Lagurus contains a single species named ovatus, meaning egg shaped.

Bunnytails is a member of the large Poaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean coasts from Portugal, all of Southern European countries to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel, the North African countries and the Canary Islands and the Azores. It has been introduced to Britain and thrives on sandy stretches near the sea. It blooms from late spring to early fall.

I came across my first clump of bunny tails in nature later in life. I found it in Kadınlar Denizi, 300 to 400 meters inland from the sea and about 10-15 meters above sea level, in what is typically the Mediterranean basin scrubland. Scrubland is the driest areas in the Mediterranean, especially areas near the seacoast where wind and salt spray are frequent. Low, soft-leaved scrublands are known as the garrigue in French. Such places around Kuşadası also had abundant number of olive trees. More and more of them are being cut down.

Bunny tails is a very appealing clump-forming herbaceous ornamental grass, herbaceous meaning that the stems are herb like. The green foliage can grow up to 50cm tall. The oval flower heads start out green and turn to a warm tan as they ripen all summer. Although the plant is an annual, the flower heads dry beautifully without losing their color or form and one can keep them for years.

Where I found bunny tails I also saw immortals or more correctly l’immortelle as this plant is called in French. Had I gathered some they would have lasted for ever just like the bunny tails. Unlike the bunny tails there are an estimated 600 varieties of this everlasting flower. I cannot be certain of the name of the specific immortelle that I like. From what I have learned I conclude that I’m looking for one of these three: Helichrysum stoechas, Helichrysum arenarium or Helichrysum italicum. Unless I were to take a field trip with a botanist I could not be sure which name fits. I did take one little trip to the corner l’Occitane store though (ca.loccitane.com). They fill up the store and the window with immortelle each year and I rejoice that I can see the plant again and again. This time I went in and asked permission to photograph the flowers on display. I asked but they do not sell them.

The genus name Helichrysum is derived from the Greek word helisso which means ‘to turn around’ and chrysos which means ‘gold’. Some web sites give the meaning as helios meaning ‘sun’ and chrysos meaning ‘gold’ or ‘the color of gold’, together meaning ‘sun gold.’ The genus is classified under the Asteraceae or the sun flower family. Sun flowers turn towards the sun.

Immortelle is a perennial plant with silvery green leaves and yellow flowers. Its most distinct characteristic is its delightfully inviting smoked, spicy and earthy smell that permeates throughout the scrublands under the blazing sun.

Helichrysum stoechas and Helichrysium arenarium varieties of the plant grow in Turkey as they do in other Mediterranean countries and all the way to the Caucasus. Stoechas flowers from April to July. Arenarium goes on to give flowers until September and even October.

Medicinal properties of the immortelle have been known since ancient times.

L’Occitane has been working with the Helichrysum italicum variety since 2001. They harvest it for its oil to be used in their products. This is a very costly oil and scarcely available, but unlike other essential oils which have a short shelf life, this oil can be stored for a very long time they tell us on their web page.

Helichrysum Italicum is native to France, Italy and a few neighboring countries. This immortelle grows on the island of Corsica, especially in the Balagne region, which includes Calvi and the Ile Rousse and their scrub-covered mountains which plunge into clear and calm waters of the Mediterranean. L’Occitane manages 44 hectares of the plant on Corsica and produces close to 200 kilograms of essential oil.

My friends from when we roamed the land where these beautiful plants grew sadly did not quite remember them years later. And the land, parceled out not too long ago has been turned into crummily paved streets and shabbily built districts of Kuşadası.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I only saw one ful and only once in my life. I still remember that one flower. Ful is a memorable flower that has become the flower of ceremonies and rituals in many countries. My mother and I had a ritual for it. I must have been twelve, thirteen when I saw the ful in a little vase on my mother’s night table. Immediately I was attracted to it but mother told me not to touch it or it would wilt and turn brown. I leaned in to smell it very carefully for fear of grazing the petals with my nose. I remember a slightly distinct smell. That’s it. That was the whole experience. What became of the flower later, I do not recollect. Where mother may have gotten it I never knew.


Thinking about this plant turned into an education. If it were not for the internet and Wikipedia that distant childhood memory would have remained just that, whereas now I know a few things about this special flower.

Its common name is ful in Turkish, fouli ((Φούλι) in Greek, full (فل) in Arabic and sampaguita in Filipino and Spanish. It is known as the Arabian jasmine in English. Jasminum sambac is the botanical name for it.

Let’s look at how the name Jasminum sambac originated. In Persian yâsamin (یاسمین‎) is a feminine given name which means ‘gift from god’ and it is also the name for a flowering plant. From this word come the words yasmin and jasmine. The pronunciation of yasmin is parallel with the English jasmine, but in Arabic and Turkish the “s” does not sound like a “z”. The Turkish word is yasemin pronounced as three syllables.

“Medieval Arabic ‘zanbaq’ meant jasmine flower-oil from the flowers of any species of jasmine. This word entered late medieval Latin as ‘sambacus’ and ‘zambacca’ with the same meaning as the Arabic, and then in post-medieval Latin plant taxonomy the word was adopted as a label for the J. sambac species. The J. sambac species is a good source for jasmine flower-oil in terms of the quality of the fragrance and it continues to be cultivated for this purpose for the perfume industry today. The J. officinale species is also cultivated for the same purpose, and probably to a greater extent.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasminum_sambac)

Despite its common name this flower is not native to Arabia. It originally hails from South Asia. It is thought to have originated in India. Some believe that it comes from Pakistan or perhaps Iran. Both in Asia and in the Arab world jasmine was an esteemed flower for thousands of years. It is believed to have been brought to Europe thorough Spain by the Moors in the 1600s.

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus described the plant as Nyctanthes sambac in the first edition of his book Systema Naturae. In 1789, William Aiton reclassified the plant to the genus Jasminum. He also coined the common English name of ‘Arabian jasmine’, creating the misconception that it was Arabian in origin.

Jasmine sambac is widely cultivated for its attractive and fragrant flowers. The flowers are also used for making tea and in the perfume industry. The flowers are harvested as buds during early morning. The flower buds must be white, as green ones may not emit the characteristic fragrance they are known for.

Jasminum sambac is a small shrub that can grow up to 3 meters. The flowers open at night, and close in the morning. I am learning the plant also produces a fruit which is a purple to black berry 1 cm in diameter. J. sambac belongs to the Oleaceae botanical family that includes the olive tree and its relatives. Now, isn’t that something?

The cultivars of J. sambac differ from each other by the structure of the corolla-all of the petals of a flower together are called a corolla. A cultivar is a plant selected and grown for desirable characteristics. From among numerous cultivars of the J. sambac, there are four which are most recognized.

'Maid of Orleans' - possesses flowers with a single layer of five or more oval shaped petals. The ‘Maid of Orleans’ is the national flower of Philippines. It is the variety most commonly referred to as ‘sampaguita’ It is also one of the three national flowers of Indonesia. It is widely cultivated in many countries today. The plant favors a warm and sunny climate.

'Belle of India' - possesses flowers with a single or double layer of elongated petals.

'Mysore Mulli' - resembles the 'Belle of India' cultivar but has slightly shorter petals.

'Grand Duke of Tuscany' - possesses flowers with doubled petals. They resemble small white roses and are less fragrant than the other varieties. It is also known as ‘Rose jasmine’. In the Philippines, it is known as ‘kampupot’. Together with other varieties of jasmine, this variety also grows particularly in southwestern Turkey but it is not widely known. Unlike Jasminum officinale and other jasmine species this shrub has thicker, sturdier branches.

The variety of Jasminum sambac that I saw on my mother’s night table long long time ago is the Grand Duke of Tuscany cultivar. I still have my mother and the vase. My mother does not have her memories.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Peruvian pepper tree

I no longer have a conscious choice of the plant that is going to come to the fore bringing early memories and sensations back to me.  Sometimes it is a little flower, other times it is a shrub or a tree. It can be a fruit tree or a big tall tree. I do not know if the scenes in my mind will be of spring, summer or fall.  The location varies. When I first started writing ‘the nature of my memories’, many many plants had rushed into my mind.  Now, I am thinking of totally different ones.  This project has acquired a mind of its own.

I will continue with another plant from Peru. It is a native of the Peruvian Andes. Schinus molle is a tall evergreen tree known by the names ‘false pepper’, ‘molle del Peru’, ‘Peruvian pepper tree’, ‘yalancı biber ağacı’, ‘peppercorn tree’, etc. It is the largest of all Schinus species and potentially the longest lived. Schinus is a genus of flowering trees and tall shrubs in the sumac family. Members of the genus are commonly known as pepper trees.

The reddish pink berries of Schinus molle are called pink peppercorn although the tree is unrelated to the true pepper, Pepper nigrum. The bark, leaves and berries are aromatic when crushed. The berries are often blended with commercial pepper. The fruit and leaves are, however, potentially poisonous to poultry, pigs and possibly calves.

I was happy to see this tree years later, in another location before I found out that it has become widely naturalized around the world where it has been planted as an ornamental tree and for spice production. Because it is a drought tolerant, long-lived, hardy evergreen species it has become a serious invasive weed internationally. I cannot believe that this beloved tree is labeled a dangerous and invasive weed.

These trees grew at Pınarbaşı in Aydın, Turkey. This place was a nature park-cum-picnic grounds. There were very tall shady trees. I remember the place being cool even on hot Aegean days. Although the population of the town was around 48,000 back then, the grounds were used by a limited number of people. There was a restaurant and a very rarely used swimming pool around which civil servant and professional families met friends for dinner.

I wonder who planted these trees in the beginning.


Along with the pepper trees I remember seeing eucalyptus trees in the park.

With my lack of botanical expertise, I could not begin to describe the eucalyptus of which there are more than 700 species mostly native to Australia. Wikipedia tells us that only fifteen species occur outside Australia, with just nine of these not occurring in Australia. I can only guess that the ones I know are called Eucalyptus globulus of which there are naturalized non-native occurrences in the Mediterranean basin.

Eucalyptuses are categorized by their bark characteristics. I’m learning that the ones categorized as gums have a smooth, light-colored trunk and are known for shedding a bark layer from all their branches and trunk. All this sounds very familiar to me. I have seen similar trees in Corsica, Malta and other places around the Mediterranean. They are described as gum trees because they exude copious sap from any break in the bark.


The generic name eucalyptus is derived from the Greek words ευ (eu) "well" and καλυπτος (kalyptos) "covered", referring to the ‘operculum’ on the ‘calyx’ that initially conceals the flower. In other words, a cap, the operculum, covers the green wrapping, the calyx that encases a bud. The bud cap falls off as the flower opens.


The population of the city of Aydın where Pınarbaşı Park is located has reached five times what it used to be. I hear that the park has a cable car line now; the Pınarbaşı – Aytepe cable car line takes visitors to a higher part of the park for views of the whole city and the plain beyond. At this elevated location with tall pine trees and waterfalls and cooling breezes, with the park below this place must still be lovely. It is also full of restaurants, picnic areas and play areas, they say. I wonder if the pepper and eucalyptus trees of my childhood are still providing shade to the townspeople.

                                                                             Photograph: Mehmet Özçakır