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

1 comment:

  1. I think the pepper tree is really pretty. I didn't know they blended its berries with real pepper!
    The first time I saw a eucalyptus was in France -- the first time I'd ever smelled a tree before :-)