Monday, June 18, 2007

Amaryllis, Old Varieties

With a few notable exceptions, most nurseries in Turkey don't have lots of unusual varieties. It's Acres-O-Geraniums (and petunias, and begonias, and...). It's t
oo bad because Turkey actually has an amazing wealth of flora, and a variety of climates, from Mediterranean to alpine to subtropical rain forest in the Black Sea. The reason is that most urban dwellers want what they can grow on their balconies.

What there is in Turkey is a lot of old varieties of plants that have been around for a long, long time. This is true both of vegetables and fruits, and for ornamentals. A particular region will have its favorite plum, apples or peppers, and ladies pass around cuttings and seeds of their favorite houseplants and flowers. Sometimes they acquire interesting common names in the process. Şekerlalesi ("sugar tulip) is actually a type of begonia. Sometimes they generalize - Amaryllis, Lilies, Iris and Daylilies all get called zambak ("lily").

I have a "plant buddy" across the street in the persona of Meliha hanım, a lady of about 65 from Şile. She is always coming up with starts of things - Hydrangeas, a different winter squash (seed from her brother). And now she and her brother are growing Nicotianas (strangely unknown here) and a very fragrant type of evening primrose that we've been growing in our family since I was a kid. Last year she gave me a plant, grown from seed, of an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) that she grows. I've seen various forms of this, most of what the ladies grow here are not the huge-flowered Dutch varieties but smaller-flowered ones of all colors. They grow easily and bloom profusely; I saw a house in Yedikule the other day that had at least 15 pots of them, all in full bloom. I really like the one Meliha hanım is growing; scarlet-orange flowers with a creamy throat, and a little more than half the size of a Dutch amaryllis. This plant is only two years old but is already blooming for the first time, and I have about 20 more on the way from seed.

Though enthusiasts value variety and are almost sure to keep trading plants, the scene is not so rosy in the area of Agriculture. The European Union has a very limited list, restricted to a few varieties, of the fruits which are deemed acceptable for import, and right and left. As an example Turkish farmers are abandoning the many old varieties of cherries to grow one bing type, old Apple varieties in order to grow "Starkin," a Red Delicious type, and Golden Delicious. The same is happening with some local varieties - Turkey has many different varieties of quinces, but "Ekmek" (a variety that can - almost - be eaten out-of-hand) has now been deemed "the best" and has become the only one available on the market. As more and more people leave the villages and abandon agriculture, many if not most of these varieties will disappear.

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