Monday, August 31, 2015


Writing about my familiar plants has been an enriching experience which has helped me to become more knowledgeable about plants and gain a greater appreciation of the wealth of information in the field of botany. Many plants go through marvelous phases with the seasons not unlike a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Some of them bear fruit I had not noticed before. Dissimilar looking plants can be genetically related. Sometimes their origins are in the far corners of the world.

There is always something to discover about plants. Looking up mallow in particular helped me realize the naivety that engulfed me formerly.

In Turkey I always saw mallow greens growing in abundance along road sides, in fallow fields and empty lots. I used to think that mallow was a non-flowering plant.

When I first moved to Canada I was astonished to see that mallow grew there too. I again didn’t see flowers. It took me a while to put two and two together. The lovely mauve-purple flowers with dark veins that I recognized and the green leaves used in many recipes belonged together. They were both mallow.


To think that because mallow was used as vegetable meant it wouldn’t have flowers was faulty perception all together. Typical of the city slicker in me to not think about the flowers vegetables come from. If vegetables didn’t flower, produce fruit and seed how would they propagate? For instance, eggplants grow from pretty little white to lavender flowers. I saw that eggplants had seed but I never thought how.

                        Shizhao(talk | contribs) 21 October 2005

The Turkish name for mallow is 'ebegümeci'. Ebegümeci is used as vegetable in Turkey. Its leaves can be stuffed with rice or minced meat to make dolma-‘stuffed’ mallow leaves just as vine leaves or they can be used to make an ‘olive oil’ dish like most other vegetables and herbs. These are mostly served cold. Many species of the plant are edible. In fact, the flowers and the seeds are eaten as well.

Recipe for ‘olive oil’ mallow:
Ingredients: 1 kg. mallow, 2 Tbsp. rice, 1/8 c olive oil, 1/2 c hot water,   2 onions diced, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tsp sugar.
Directions: Place diced onions, rice, olive oil, seasoning and sugar in a pot. Add largely chopped mallow. Add hot water and stir everything. Cook over high heat for a few minutes and then lower heat to medium and simmer (for about twenty five minutes) until everything is well cooked. If needed add water during cooking. Serve warm with yogurt.

I now know that the genus in the family Malvaceae, is widespread throughout the temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Europe. It has moved on to America where it is considered an invasive plant.

The color mauve was given its name in 1859 after the French name for this plant, mauve des bois.

Malva is a genus of about 25–30 species of herbaceous annual, biennial, and perennial plants. The ones used in dishes in Turkey are mainly Malva Sylvestris and Malva neglecta. Both are known as common mallow. M. Sylvestris is also known as grand malva or high malva and M. neglecta is known as dwarf malva ( The Turkish name ebegümeci may drive from the word 'gümeç' which means the hexagonal wax cell of a honeycomb which the leaves of the plant may resemble.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I wondered what the number of known plants was. The study of plants originated in prehistory as herbalism. Humans needed to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants. It was in the 18th century that steps were taken toward a unified hierarchical classification of plant species. In 1753 Carl Linnaeus (known as Carl von Linné after his ennoblement in Sweden) published his ‘Species Plantarum’ that remains the reference point for modern botanical nomenclature. Nomenclature means an international system of terms used in biology for kinds and groups of plants and animals.

One study gives the total number of described flora in the world as 268 650. Others have given as high a number as 350 000. The most agreed upon numbers seem to be between 300-315 thousand species of plants.

Plants or Viridiplantae, in Latin meaning green plants, are multicellular eukaryotes-organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and other structures (organelles) enclosed within membranes-of the kingdom Plantae. In biology the major taxonomic ranks of plants are as follows: Life, Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Plants form a clade, a single branch on the tree of life that includes the flowering plants, gymnosperms such as conifers, ferns, clubmosses, hornworts, liverworts, mosses and the green algae. Red and brown algae, the fungi, archaea and bacteria are excluded. Modern botany has become highly complex and detailed over the years.

Unlike common names, botanical or scientific names are applied to only one kind of plant. They typically consist of two words; the first is called the genus name, the second the species name. Together they define a single unique type of plant. The words that make up the scientific name of a plant all mean something. They are Latin or Latinized words. Sometimes they are the old Roman name for a particular kind of plant, Latinized words of other languages are also used, descriptive names or terms such as alba-white, sanguinea-blood-red, or names of people for which the plant was named such as Forsythia, Magnolia.

The rules for officially naming plants are established by botanists who gather periodically in International Botanical Congresses (IBC). The next one is scheduled to be held in Shenzhen, China in 2017.

The naming of plants is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP, Cultivated Plant Code). There are systems of plant taxonomy and the latest APG III-Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III system was published in 2009.

Learning all this made me think of the earth’s past. A wide surface of the earth was covered with dense forests until humans began farming which required opening up land for cultivation and pastures. In time, logging, urban sprawl, human-caused forest fires, acid rain, invasive species and shifting agriculture brought about loss of old-growth forests. Natural causes such as forest fires, insects, disease, weather, and competition of species cause loss of forests also. Secondary forests with smaller trees developed instead. “Today, more than 75% of the world’s remaining old forests lie in three countries-the Boreal forests of Russia and Canada and the rainforest of Brazil” (

When trees go entirely marshes and wild flower patches arise. These can be so lovely. Many beautiful plants that are considered weeds grow in these places. I will quote Wikipedia in defense of the weeds that grow in wildflower patches and meadows.

“A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation. Examples commonly are plants unwanted in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns, and parks. Taxonomically, the term 'weed' has no botanical significance, because a plant that is a weed in one context is not a weed when growing in a situation where it is in fact wanted, and where one species of plant is a valuable crop plant, another species in the same genus might be a serious weed, such as a wild bramble growing among cultivated loganberries. Many plants that people widely regard as weeds also are intentionally grown in gardens and other cultivated settings. The term is also applied to any plant that grows or reproduces aggressively, or is invasive outside its native habitat.” (


In Kanata, Ottawa where my younger daughter lives I came across a lovely wild flower patch in July, 2014. About five days after I took these photos the field was dug up and a sales shed was in place for the sale of the condos that were going to be built there.

A lovely yellow ‘weed’ drew my attention.


Lotus pedunculatus (formerly Lotus uliginosus) is a member of the pea family Fabaceae. It is a perennial growing primarily in Western Europe and the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It thrives in damp, open locations growing 20-80 cm tall, with leaflets 10-25 mm long and 10-20 mm broad. The ones I saw had six golden-yellow flowers 10–18 mm long forming an umbel at the tip of the upright stem.

The common name for it is a long one: Marsh birdsfoot trefoil.

Here was a plant that had travelled from Europe. Once I noticed this lovely little flower I started seeing it in the gardens and lawns all over Kanata.

Monday, August 17, 2015


As most religious books attest, the fig is a heavenly fruit, especially the ones that grow in the Aegean region of Turkey. The fig is native to Turkey and the Middle East where it has been sought out in the wild and cultivated since ancient times. Turkey is the number one producer of figs in the world.


Ficus carica, ‘the common fig’ or just ‘the fig’ is a species of flowering plant in the genus Ficus, from the family Moraceae. Today it is widely grown throughout the temperate world, both for its fruit and as an ornamental plant.

The fig is a deciduous tree or large shrub with smooth white bark, growing to a height of 3-7 meters. Its fragrant leaves are 12–25 cm long and 10–18 cm across, and deeply lobed with three or five lobes. It is a dioecious plant meaning the female and the male parts are on separate plants.

Leaves and the immature fruit of the fig

The fruit of the plant is also called fig. There are very many cultivars of the fig and each is particular. I am going to talk about the fig I consider the most tasty, the yellow lob (sarı lop) from Aydın, Turkey. Turkey has been exporting figs since Ottoman times and the port of the Aegean region where the best figs grow was the port of Izmir which used to be known to the western world as Symrna, the city founded during the Archaic Period of Greece (800 BC – 480 BC). This led to the ‘Sarı lop’ figs being known as ‘lob of Symrna’ which then were called Izmir figs in Turkey as well. Actually, back in those days Aydın was the capital of a wider province that included Izmir and the sarı lop grew around Aydın. I’ve read in an article dated 2007 that the Aydın Chamber of Commerce had this special fig registered as Aydın fig that year and Aydın now has the patent for the best fig.

What we think of as the fruit is actually the flower of the fig. Called a syconium, it is a fleshy receptacle lined by numerous unisexual flowers on the inside. It is referred to as the false fruit in which the flowers and seeds are borne. The fruit is 3-5 cm long, with a green skin, ripening to yellow green in the lob. There are also light green and purple figs. The fruit of the lob is rounded and bigger than other figs. The Ficus carica has a milky sap that runs when the stems or the leaves of the tree are broken.

Some figs have both the male and the female fruit on the same tree but with the lob the male and the female are separate trees. The female requires pollination by a kind of wasp (Blastophaga grossorum) of the superfamily Chalcidoidea that can only be found in the Mediterranean region (in the 1900s they were imported to California). The following is a quote from Wikipedia but to truly understand the grueling process one would need to research it in detail: "The fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole, the ostiole, in the crown. She crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig and pollinates some of the female flowers. She lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. After weeks of development in their galls (plant structures formed as their own microhabitats), the male wasps emerge before females through holes they produce by chewing the galls. The male wasps then fertilize the females by depositing semen in the hole in the gall. The males later return to the females and enlarge the holes to enable the females to emerge. Then some males enlarge holes in the scion, which enables females to disperse after collecting pollen from the developed male flowers. Females have a short time (48 hours) to find another fig tree with receptive scions to spread the pollen, assist the tree in reproduction, and lay their own eggs to start a new cycle (". The wasps stay inside the fig, and with the seeds add to the crunch.

The fig flowers in March to April and the pollination takes place around June. The pollination of the fig is referred to as caprification. The word comes from the Latin caprificus which means wild fig or the fruit of the wild fig. Pollination by caprificus became ‘caprificare’ and caprification. Ficus carica v. caprificus is the male of the Ficus carica. Usually, the practice is to plant one male tree for about 200 female trees.

Fig has long been cultivated in Anatolia to be consumed domestically or to be exported in the dried form. With the increased ease of transportation fresh figs are being exported more and more.


The roots of the fig are strong and invasive. The fig can easily grow out of walls and stone. If a fig tree is planted near homes it can cause damage to the foundation. This has led to the coining of an expression, ‘planting a fig on the hearth’ which means to cause a household or family to suffer an unprosperous destiny or to hinder someone’s desired objective from coming true.

                                                                                                                               Photograph: Mehmet Özçakır

In Ottoman times jam making was popular. There were 60 or more varieties of jam including eggplant, walnut and fig jams. No self-respecting housewife would ever neglect making her own jams and marmalades. Offering a spoonful of jam to a guest before coffee was practiced in every fine home. There are old families in Istanbul who still adhere to this tradition. Fig jam is made from the buds of the male fig tree called ‘iğlek’ in Turkish. Jam is also important breakfast fare.

                                                                                                        Fig jam

As a child I had the pleasure of climbing and eating figs right off the fig tree. I still remember the smell, the sap and the feel of the tree, its leaves and fruit. You cannot bite into the fruit before pealing it first. The wait makes the first bite even tastier. These days in Canada we can only get California figs sometimes called Calimnyra.


Monday, August 10, 2015

My garden

My garden is in Montreal. It is a fair sized garden and I’ve had it since 1992. Most of the work I do in the garden involves weeding and cleaning, however; I have never had the leisure to bring it up to par with my dear neighbor’s garden where he grows cherished flowers and now has planted a pear tree. I have always had to keep my garden looking the least presentable on the run. I’m pleased to be able to say though, throughout the years we entertained guests, had summer evening dinners or just basked in the sun in my garden. In the winters we measured Montreal’s snowfall by the fence.

I also planted a few things over the years, one of them being allium. I do not remember what kind of allium mine are because it’s been a while since I planted them and I didn’t pay attention at the time. I believe they are Allium hollandicum and this kind of allium is native to Iran and Kyrgyzstan.   A. hollandicum is widely cultivated especially in the Northern Hemisphere.

Allium hollandicum, common names Persian onion or Purple Sensation, is a favored plant of gardeners because of its large spherical umbels that grow up to 25 cm in diameter. In its umbels many short stalked flowers spread from a common point and form a perfect circle.

A. hollandicum is a bulb-forming perennial with scapes which means smooth stems with no nodes, leaves or branches. The scapes can grow up to 90 cm tall. Its flat leaves are at the very bottom of the scapes and these can be up to 60 cm long.

Allium is placed in the family Amaryllidaceae. The onion genus Allium includes, besides the onion, garlic, chives, scallion, and the leek. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic. Since this allium is not native to Holland I don’t know why it was given the specific name hollandicum.


It is a great gift to have a garden and to work outdoors. One of the biggest pleasures of having a garden I must say, is to be able gather what you can and bring them inside to be placed in vases. It feels like reaping your produce. By mid-spring A. hollandicum flowers are in full bloom. They dry up by mid-July but still make an interesting addition to a bouquet.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Maquis and garrigue

Where we are born and raised for the first fifteen to twenty years of our lives makes an indelible impression on our senses; all five of them and then some. Even if we go to the ends of the world later in life we always miss our old self and surroundings. We search what we are familiar with to assuage our longing.

The natural scenery that I enjoy the most and feel the happiest in is the Aegean maquis and garrigue cover.


Maquis is a shrubland biome found throughout the Mediterranean region including southern Portugal, central-southern Spain, most of coastal Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, southern France, coastal but mostly western and southern Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere. It typically consists of densely growing, sclerophyll (hard leaves with short internodes-distance between the leaves) evergreen shrubs and small trees such as anise, phillyrea, carob, broom, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, lavender, linden, juniper, wormwood, rockrose, heather, smilax (aspera), laurels, asparagus, buckthorn, strawberry tree, holm oak, kermes oak, tree heath, arbutus, spurge olive, sandal wood, mastic tree and so on.

In many places maquis appears due to frequent fires preventing young trees from maturing.

Garrigue is similar to maquis but consists of a type of low scrubland in the Mediterranea generally near the seacoast, where the climate is mild but annual summer droughts are prevalent. Soft leaved vegetation tolerant to wind and salt spray from the sea is the norm. Garrigue vegetation is discontinuous with open spaces between bush groupings and perhaps a few low trees. Phrygana is another name for these scrublands. In California a similar Mediterranean climate ecoregion is called chaparral.

The name maquis comes from the Latin 'macula' meaning spot as in a spot of bushy land I presume. The term garrigue comes from Catalan or Occitan 'garric' the name for it in those languages and meaning ‘twisted’.

The Mediterranean region is a place of significant biodiversity. Kermes oak is among the endemic species prominent in the Mediterranean vegetation.

                                            The maquis at Heybeliada, Istanbul

Kermes oak

Kermes oak, Quercus coccifera, is an oak in the genus Quercus (Latin oak tree) section Cerris in the family Fagaceae.

                                         Photograph : Beste Barki         Photograph : 

This type of oak is usually a 2-3 meters tall shrub occasionally reaching 1-6 meters. It is evergreen, with serrated leaves 1.5–4 cm long and 1–3 cm broad. The leaves are softer and lighter in color when they are new but as they age they become coriaceous-still flexible but tough, leathery.

Kermes oak can form thorny and dense thickets accompanied by other plant species of the same size and sometimes climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrilla (smilax). It easily lives in pebbly, stony and calcareous, that is, lime and chalk soils. It is a hot weather plant that grows on dry, sunny slopes where the summer temperatures reach 35° C, occasionally 40° C. In the winters it can tolerate temperature drops below 0°C, ground frost and sporadic snowfalls.

It blooms from March to May when the weather is still wet. Kermes oak multiplies by root suckers and layering but it is easily propagated by seed which is an acorn that lies dormant until it is germinated by wet weather.

                                                            Kermes oak in bloom

Germination might occur anywhere from late summer to late autumn or early winter of the following year. The acorns are 2–3 cm long and 1.5–2 cm diameter when mature about 18 months after pollination. They are held in a scaly cup. They remind one of hazelnuts of which Turkey is the main producer in the world.

Acorns vary greatly in size and shape from one species to another and they taste very bitter. Birds, squirrels, rabbits love them nonetheless. In children’s story books anthropomorphic animals love to eat them and make use of them in very imaginative ways.

I’m learning that the Kermes Oak was historically important as the food plant of the Kermes scale insect, from which a red dye called crimson was obtained from the crushed dried bodies of the female insects. “The etymology of the specific name 'coccifera' is related to the production of red cochineal (crimson) dye and derived from Latin coccum which was from Greek κὀκκος, the kermes insect. The dye was used for coloring fabrics and manuscripts. The Latin -fera means 'bearer'."   (

                                                                                    Henri at Heybeliada, Istanbul (May 2014)

Various acorns