x0x Turkey's rare orchids
By Onder Erdem
The delicate beauty of orchids fires enthusiasts, and as one of the
largest families of flowering plants in the world, searching out its
vast number of species is an endless journey of discovery and delight.
The orchid comes in many strange and lovely forms, particularly in the
tropics where it is widespread, and varies greatly in size and
appearance in different climatic regions. Both the beauty and long
life of cut orchids makes this family of flowers the favourite of
florists throughout the world, and for many tropical countries orchids
are a major source of income.
Although the diversity of species diminishes as you move away from the
tropics, this is only relative, and the orchid enthusiast can still
find many species in more temperate climes. No less than 148 different
orchid species grow in Turkey, for instance, and 40 of these are
endemic, that is found in Turkey alone. Turkey is home to almost as
many orchid species as grow in the entire European continent, and has
more endemic species than any other country in the region. In terms of
its flora Turkey has been likened to a continent in its own right.
Altogether there are 12,000 known species of plants in Europe, while
Turkey alone has approximately three-quarters of this number, of which
3000 are endemic, accentuating the importance of the coutry'sn
Most orchids flower in spring, so although it is possible to find
blooming orchids at any season in Turkey, in the spring months the
hills and mountains are brightly carpeted with orchids of all colours
and sizes. They grow in such varied habitats that it is possible to
find orchids on the alpine meadows of the Kackar Mountains, in the
Black Sea region, in the maquis scrub of the Aegean, and in the pine
forests high in the Taurus Mountains along the Mediterranean coast.
But of all the places in Turkey where orchids are to be found, it is
the southwestern province of Mugla which is home to the most species,
at nearly seventy. In March and April at least five or six orchid
species bloom on coastal meadowland, and if you return to the same
meadows a couple of weeks later you will find their place taken by
five or six different species.
Those to whom the word orchid conjures up an image of the exotic
species sold in florists may not immediately recognise orchids when
they come across them while wandering in the Turkish countryside. Less
flamboyant and extravagant in size than their tropical cousins they
might be, but equally exquisite when examined at close quarters. The
tiny purple flowers of the green-winged orchid (Orchis morio), for
instance, are captivating. As you walk along be on the lookout, too,
for the spiralling flower spike of lady's tresses (Spiranthes
spiralis), a frail plant seldom more than 10 cm tall, its small
flowers like dancing butterflies. These miniature flowered orchids
open the door into the magical world of Turkish orchids.
At the other end of the spectrum are such large and striking species
as the giant orchids of the genus Himantoglossum which grow to 50 cm
in height, and Anacamptis pyramidalis with over thirty flowers on each
stem. The Anatolian orchid (Orchis anatolica), a species named after
Anatolia, again has all the beauty of a butterfly in flight. Of them
all the most intriguing are the members of the bee orchid genus
Ophrys, characterised by flowers with an uncanny resemblance to bees
or other insects. This deception attracts bees and insects to the
flowers as colour and scent do to other flowers, illustrating the
devious ways of nature in ensuring the propagation of living things.
* Onder Erdem is a photographer