The Meander Plain; looking north towards Aydın and the Aydın Mountains beyond
The Meander Plain, in Turkish the Menderes Plain, is one of the most fertile places on earth. That is why it is also beautiful. Years ago, a recently appointed governor who had just arrived was in such awe of what he saw that he could not help but comment “no doubt the wooden power poles could easily sprout”.
Jeremy Seal, the travel writer, canoed along the Meander River that gives the plain its name and his book titled Meander was published in 2013. Seal followed the river for 500 km. from the spring where it rises near the town of Dinar to where it drains into the Aegean Sea between the resort towns of Didim and Kuşadası in Western Turkey. The Meander is a deep river but not very broad which makes it navigable only by small craft.
I chose the plant called hayıt in Turkish that I had first seen near the Meander River to symbolize the plains watered by this great river. I can remember its heady smell from hot and hazy summers of long ago. This plant is found throughout the Mediterranean region. It is a deciduous shrub which grows three to five meters high and forms dense thickets on river banks and in coastal areas. It flowers from summer to early fall. Commonly called vitex, chaste tree or chasteberry, the plant has a complex botanical name, Vitex agnus-castus. Vitex is a genus of tropical and subtropical flowering plants in the Lamiacea family of which Vitex agnus-castus is one of the few temperate-zone species.
In the initial stages of growth the branches are covered with a fine down. It has five to seven lobed palmate leaves and the fruit are small brownish berries. The flowers are violet, blue, pink or white.
The flowers develop on roughly 15 cm. long shoots that form at the terminal portions of the branches. With this plant we learn of the term meristem in botany which means the tissue that contains undifferentiated cells (meristematic cells) found on most plants where growth can take place. These cells are like the stem cells in animals. The Shoot Apical Meristem-cells at the apex of a shoot-produces flowers in this case. On the tips of the shoots there are new buds developing and towards the base of the shoots there are full flowers. The word meristem is derived from the Greek word merizein (μερίζειν) meaning to divide.
I am surprised to find out that the name of the plant, Vitex agnus-castus, comes from the Roman times and that vitex has been used as a medication for a certain number of illnesses since olden days. Wikipedia gives us the meaning of vitex as drived from the Latin vieo, meaning to weave or to tie in reference to the use of the plant in basketry. A naturalist, among other things, Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79AD) better known as Pliny the Elder called the plant vitex. Others mentioned it as agnus or castus. The meaning of agnus is pure, holy and the meaning of castus is again pure and chaste.
The Plant Encyclopedia, (http://www.avogel.com/plant-encyclopaedia/vitex_agnus-castus.php, founder Alfred Vogel, 1902-1996) provides the following information: “The plant's name resulted from a series of misinterpretations. Theophrastus and Dioscorides called the bush ágonos, the ‘a’ negating ‘gonos’ which means progeny, therefore ‘infertile’. In the course of time, this word became agnós, meaning ‘holy, pure, chaste’. Pliny used the Latin word for chastity, ‘castitas’, to describe the plant. ‘Agnós’ was in turn misinterpreted as the Latin agnus, meaning ‘lamb’, which resulted in the plant becoming known as ‘chaste lamb’.”
Vitex or chaste tree was believed to promote chastity and reduce libido in both men and women. Medicinally it was used to treat abdominal complaints and to help regulate hormone levels to provide relief from hot flashes and menopausal symptoms for women. The extract derived from the berries is being used to control symptoms of PMS even today, although trials indicate that it is not better than currently available medications. It remains an alternative remedy.
The Plant Encyclopedia provides information about peculiar uses of the plant, one being that “in medieval cloisters, the fruit from the bush were used as a substitute for pepper as the German name ‘Monchspfeffer’ (Monk’s Pepper) implies in order to suppress carnal desire (= anaphrodisiac). The monks scattered Agnus castus chaff in their sleeping quarters. The custom of strewing Agnus castus flowers on the paths leading to the cloisters for novices is still carried out to this day in Italy.”
I believe, with all this historical significance, Vitex agnus castus makes a wonderful symbol for the area rich in lore.