Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My mother’s ecosystem

About six square meters big and containing nine plants and eighteen pots my mother’s ecosystem has been running strong since the late 1980s.

During the three summer months my mother is away, the plants are watered once a month by the neighbor. Within the glass enclosure the balcony works like a hot house and the plants thrive. Several of them extend shoots that take root in the adjacent pots. Some reseed themselves in further away pots. It is very interesting to observe that they all do well with limited amount of soil.

The cacti bloom from May to July. They produce big white flowers about 13-15 cm in length that last only a day or two. After the flowers fall off, brown fuzzy tufts remain in their place. I was able to take hasty photographs of the enchanting blooms in May.

The winter months provide more humidity and my mother might add a little vitamin into their soil. I can name only two of the plants on her balcony by their common names; the spider plant and the geranium.

               Chlorophytum comosum                                                    Pelargonium hortorum

Spider plant
The spider plant or Chlorophytum comosum is of the Asparagaceae family.  It is a flowering plant native to tropical and southern Africa and it has been naturalized in other parts of the world. Variegated forms are popular houseplants, variegated meaning the foliage having two colors.

Individual flowers are greenish-white and the inflorescences carry plantlets at the tips of their long branches, which eventually droop and touch the soil, developing adventitious roots. These are roots that originate from the stem, the branches or leaves of a plant.

The plant also has stems called stolons that do not bear flowers and have roots at the nodes.

It turns out that geranium is just the common name for the members of the genus Pelargonium which are also in the Geraniaceae family as true geraniums.

“Linnaeus originally included all the species in one genus, Geranium, but they were later separated into two genera by Charles L’Héritier in 1789”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelargonium)

Pelargonium is native to southern Africa and Australia, and the north of New Zealand. There are species native to other countries also, two of them being native to Turkey: P. endlichherianum and P. quercetorum. Naturalized P. horhotum is still the most favored geranium. It is an evergreen perennial that can flower throughout the winter months if it is given a warm, sunny and sheltered location.

                                        My brother Aydın and Gülten Örstan on her balcony in 2013

Our beloved mother passed away recently.  I did not wish to make changes to the previous outline I had planned for this post.  It was enough heart brake that I had to distribute her plants to fellow plant lovers and gardeners.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


                                          Photograph: Tülay Karayazgan, Mimosa in Istanbul in March

Spherical things make me happy. Round egagropili, colorful marbles, the planets have always interested me visually. Mimosa flowers are also round and I remember feeling good about them as a child.

There were several mimosa trees in the small park across from our house. Mimosa or Acacia dealbata which belongs in the Fabaceae family is a species of Acacia native to southeastern Australia. It is widely introduced in the Mediterranean region.

                         November                              January ( Photo: Esra Selamoğlu)                                   March

Acacia dealbata is classified in the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae. The subfamily is divided into four tribes. A.dealbata belongs in the Acacieae tribe, yet it has the typical leaf and inflorescence structure of the Mimoiseae tribe. There are other acacia that have this characteristic.

A.dealbata is an evergreen tree or shrub that can grow up to 30 m tall. The leaves are bipinnate which means the leaflets are themselves pinnately compound. A. dealbata leaves are blue-green in color.

“The flowers are produced in large racemose inflorescences made up of numerous smaller globose bright yellow flowerheads of 13–42 individual flowers. The fruit is a flattened pod, 2–11.5 cm long and 6–14 mm broad, containing several seeds. Trees generally do not live longer than 30 to 40 years”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acacia_dealbata)

In the aforementioned park in Aydın there used to be a high band stand in the late 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. One day a week-it may have been on Saturdays-the city band came to play. The park has been paved and built over since.

                                                   A procession in Sliema, Malta in 2014

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Fabaceae is a large and economically important family of flowering plants and for the lay person it is not always easy to sort out the orders, the subfamilies, the genera and the species in this family. The group is the third largest land plant family in terms of number of species, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabaceae).

The name Fabaceae comes from the Latin “faba” which means “bean”. Fabaceae is also called the pea family. Leguminosae is an older name still used and refers to the fruit of these plants which are called legumes.

There are three subfamilies:
In the Faboideae, the flowers have a specialized structure. “The upper petal, called the banner, is large and envelops the rest of the petals in bud, often reflexing when the flower blooms. The two adjacent petals, the wings, surround the two bottom petals. The two bottom petals are fused together at the apex (remaining free at the base), forming a boat-like structure called the keel.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabaceae)

In the Mimosoideae, the flowers are globose inflorescences. All of the flowers in an inflorescence open at once.

The third group, the Caesalpinioideae mainly comprises of trees distributed in the moist tropics.

The subfamily Mimosoideae is subdivided into four tribes: Acacieae, Ingeae, Mimoseae, and Mimozygantheae.

After learning all this comes the task of discovering the binomial name. Does the acacia I know belong in one of these three subfamilies? Is it in the Acacieae tribe of the Mimosoideae subfamily? After checking out the internet images and the distribution information, Robinia pseudoacacia appeared to be the correct candidate. Is it named as pseudo acacia because it is not classified under the genus Acacieae but in the subfamily Faboideae? For the answers I would need to make the acquaintance of a botanist.

Robinia pseudoacacia is a deciduous tree of the genus Robinia in the subfamily Faboideae. It grows 4–25 meters tall. The leaves are pinnate and the flowers are white or pink, in pendulous racemes.

R. pseudoacacia is naturalized in Europe, Southern Africa and Asia. It grows so abundantly in Istanbul that it surprised me to learn that it is native to the southeastern United States and northern Mexico. The genus is named after the royal French gardeners Jean Robin and his son Vespasien Robin, who introduced the plant to Europe in the beginning of the 17th century.


Have I been able to make the description as complicated for you as it was for me?

Here is a stanza and my approximate translation from a classic song called Akasyalar Açarken-‘When the acacia are blooming’, that everybody still enjoys immensely. The very talented Yesari Asım Arsoy (1900-1992) must have found love to be uncomplicated when he wrote this song:
Yarim gelir yanıma, Kanı kaynar kanıma             My love comes to my side, Gives me much love
Neşe katar canıma, Akasyalar açarken                  Adds joy to my soul, When the acacia are blooming

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


At the park near our place in Istanbul, the air was filled with the sweet smell of wisteria vines loaded with lavender blooms in April.

How to tell which kind of wisteria they were? Of the most common three kinds, the ones native to the United States do not smell. These had to be the Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) or the Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). I tried to find out if the twining (twisting to wrap around a sport) of the stems was clockwise or counter-clock wise. The twining was counter-clockwise I decided, and since the flower racemes were about 20-25cm in length, these were Chinese wisteria. The Japanese wisteria has very long racemes.

Wisteria is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family Fabaceae. The botanist Thomas Nuttall named the plant in memory of either a Dr. C. Wistar or his friend C. J. Wister, Sr. as his biographer notes. Sinensis indicates the Chinese origin of the plant.

Wisteria sinensis is a deciduous, perennial climbing vine. Flowering is in the spring just before the leaves open. The flowers are very fragrant. The vine is very hardy and fast-growing. It can grow in fairly poor-quality soils, but prefers a fertile, moist, well-drained soil and thrives in full sun. W. sinensis has a higher quantity of racemes than other wisteria.


The leaves are alternate, 15 to 35 cm long, pinnate with 9 to 19 leaflets. Pinnation is the feather-like arrangement of the leaflets arising from both sides of a common axis.

Wisteria can grow into a mound when unsupported. They do better when they can climb up a pergola or a wall. The supporting structure needs to be very sturdy, because mature Wisteria can become immensely strong with heavy and thick trunks and stems.

“The fruit is a flattened, brown, velvety, bean-like pod 5–10 cm long with thick disk-like seeds around 1 cm in diameter spaced evenly inside; they mature in summer and crack and twist open to release the seeds; the empty pods often persist until winter.

It was introduced from China to Europe and North America in 1816 and has secured a place as one of the most popular flowering vines for home gardens due to its flowering habit.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisteria_sinensis)

Wisteria can live for over a hundred years.