Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The European nettle tree

I find it interesting that from a young age we have an affinity for certain aspects of life, such as getting to know what nature can provide us with. When I started writing about the plants I remembered from back when I was little, I also wandered about the plants people close to me dreamed of.

My husband Henri, together with the neighborhood children lived an adventurous life on his street in Istanbul in the early 1960s. He told me about the explosive toy gun they made with tree branches. They called it ‘patlangıç’. Patla means ‘(to) explode’ and adding the nominal forming suffix ‘gıç’ makes the word patlangıç meaning ‘exploder’ in Turkish. This was a word formed and used solely for the toy created.

Using nettle tree berries as ammunition they fought imaginary wars. There was no enemy per se. The fun was in the liberating power of the instrument at hand, in the explosion created. The territory they roamed to get their supplies extended as far as half a kilometer or more from home.

The berries were still green and easy to bite into Henri remembers. This tells us that it was still summer when he played with them because in the fall berries become dry and turn deep purple in color and that is when school starts.


Celtis australis, commonly known as the European nettle tree is a deciduous tree that can grow 20 or 25 meters in height. It is endemic to southern Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor. This tree previously grouped with elm trees is now classified under the Cannabaceae family of plants. The Turkish name for the tree is çitlembik.

The bark is smooth and grey. The leaves are narrow and sharp-toothed, rugose-wrinkly above and tomentose-covered with densely matted woolly hairs below, 5–15 cm long and dark grey/green throughout the year, fading to a pale yellow before falling in autumn. The tomentose underside of the leaves have a velvety feel to touch. The flowers are small and green. The fruit is a small, dark-purple berry-like drupe, 1 cm wide which comes in clusters and which is popular with birds and other wildlife.

To build a patlangıç you needed to find the tree that provided the right branch which had the round soft core you could hallow out easily. From another tree came the branch to make the piston of the patlangıç in two parts. Half was carved as the narrow part that fit into the hallowed branch and the other half that formed the handle was left uncarved. Henri does not remember what trees these branches came from. The berries of the nettle tree were bitten in half. One half was placed in both ends of the hallowed part of the weapon. When the piston was driven in, with the air pressure that formed inside the half of the berry at the opposite end exploded out with a bang and this brought on shouts of success and satisfaction. ‘Boys will be boys’.

Here is a very crude drawing of patlangıç and its ammunition.

                                                                                  The tree in the middle is Celtis australis.

In those days, 11, 12 year old and early teenage boys played with patlangıç throughout Turkey.

                                                                                                   Henri Barki

Nettle tree in May 2013 in Istanbul


  1. Hi Beste ... interesting tree with quite a few properties that may prove useful in due course .. but I love the exploder toy - and yes boys will be boys ... Great photos and images to describe the post ...

    Cheers Hilary

  2. Aww, such great memories. Wonder if kids still bother to play with nettles or chestnuts or anything.