Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Non-Ascent of Uludağ! - Uludağ'a Çıkmayışım!

One of the nearby "plant paradises" that I've wanted to visit for a long time is Uludağ. One of the highest mountains in western Turkey, Uludağ is an extension of the Pontos range that stretches through the Black Sea. It rises up behind the city of Bursa, just south of the Sea of Marmara. Higher than any of the other mountains anywhere near, it has large numbers of endemic species. I'd kept getting wrapped up in things and put off my visit way too long as it will start snowing up there any time now.

Touted as "Yeşil Bursa" (Green Bursa), modern-day Bursa is not nearly as green today as it once was. When I first visited in 1982, it was still a city with whole neighborhoods of old Ottoman houses, mostly within its old bounds, overlooking a green plain filled with fields and orchards, especially the peaches for which the city is famous. Peaches are still an important crop in the area but the plain is increasingly being filled with...Bursa. Like most Anatolian cities, it has lost most of its traditional architecture to a flood of cement apartment buildings, with only a few incongruous Ottoman-era mosques and hans hinting at its former state. Luckily consciousness is changing and some city governments are now standing up to the everything-for-profit destruction of traditional architecture.

The mountain was one of many known as Olympus to the Greeks (there was a tendency to call the largest mountain in any region Olympus), and is the Olympus referred to in many plant names. This causes some confusion as to the actual origins of some plants. One such plant that I really wanted to collect seed of was Verbascum olympicum, which is commonly referred to as "Greek mullein" even though it doesn't exist anywhere in Greece. Actually, the only place in the world that it occurs naturally is Uludağ. Verbascum olympicum is similar in leaf, but whereas common mullein offers a single vertical inflorescence, V. olympicum really goes to town (where does it get all that energy in a year?) and sends up a spectactular candelabra thickly covered with yellow flowers, often with over fifty branches. Although it's commonly offered in the horticultural trade, more often than not it's mixed in with V. thapsus, the common mullein also known as Aaron's rod. A Google search for images of Verbascum olympicum will bring up all the evidence of this you need; after you filter out the inevitable 50% or so mislabled photos, you will find some that are quite convincing, others that are not so spectacular. There are actually several mullein species in Turkey and Greece with densely multi-branched inflorescences; one of the largest ones is V. speciosum which gets a good 6 feet high or more. V. olympicum is shorter but with a much broader inflorescence in its true form.

So my fellow plant freak friend Hüseyin and I took an evening ferry from Istanbul to Mudanya, then hopped on the bus that took us to Bursa, and spent the night with relatives of his there. We were a bit worried that it may have started snowing already since there had been some rain and the mountain was shrouded in fog. The morning revealed a snow-free peak, and we excitedly boarded the dolmuş that would take us to the teleferique (cable car) that would take us up to (almost) the top. There is a transfer point at a slightly lower elevation that we were sure would be worth checking out too.

When we got to the end of the dolmuş line, we asked where the teleferique was. A man showed us but said "It's probably not working though, there's a lodos. The lodos is a powerful, warm south wind that can come up during the winter. It can last several days, shut down ferry lines for days, and is almost always followed by other kinds of nasty weather. We got to the teleferique station and the sign on the door confirmed our fears: "Teleferik, hava muhalefetinden dolayı çalışmamaktadır." "The cable car is not functioning due to inclement weather." Although the mountain sheltered us from most of the wind - at times it seemed even quite still - we could see the clouds racing over the peak.

We knew we wouldn't be seeing any giant mullein but decided not to give up completely, and did the next-best thing - we decided to walk up a road that led up the north side of the mountain from near the teleferique station and see what we could find. The road led up through mixed forest of chestnut, some oak and evergreens as well. Since the road had been cut into the side of the mountain, there was also a lot of disturbed ground and rock faces, both of which offer habitats for plants that might not grow among the trees themselves. The road we were following turned out to lead to a village, Zeyniler, which was the subject of a famous old Turkish novel, Çalıkuşu, about a teacher who goes up to teach in a mountain village. As we got up to the point where the road turned and we would get our first view of the village, a car coming out stopped, and the driver warned us, "don't go into the village, the dogs will attack you." O-kaaay.... When we got to the bend, we got our first view - there in a beautiful valley ringed by mountains, was perhaps the most unremarkable village I've ever seen, quite disappointing considering that the village of Cumalıkızık, also very near Bursa, is full of beautiful old Ottoman houses. (Part of the village is visible in the picture of the mountain above.) So we were not tempted to risk dog attacks. What was remarkable on the other hand, was the wind; it was so strong that when a particular strong gust blew down from the mountain, we struggled to stay upright. We later learned that Istanbul had been hit hard as well, and the floating Karaköy boat terminal had broken free of its moorings and sunk, luckily during the night when it was closed. Among the rocks were lots of small bulbs, probably Muscari species, and a little Sedum.

There are two other mulleins that are endemic to Uludağ, one of which is also common in the horticultural trade. The common one is V. bombyciferum, and as it's always been a favorite plant of mine, I was happy to see it all over the place with plenty of seed spikes loaded with seed. Some of the selections in the trade are more densely felted than the most common wild form, but it's still a great plant. We found it growing in disturbed ground but also plastered against the rock faces. The plants growing in the rubble were more robust but the large white leaves pressed against the rock were also a special sight. The other endemic mullein is V. prusianum. It's by no means ugly, similar to V. thapsus with a single flowering stalk but with darker, thinner and more arching leaves.

One of the common plants on the rock faces was Hieracium bithynicum, a hawkweed that is very well adapted to living on rock faces, drought tolerant and covered in a thick white indumentum to help it conserve water. It reminded me of a mini-Verbascum.

Of course if you are interested in collecting seed, you don't go when things are in flower, so it's good to recognize seedpods as well. One plant I hadn't noticed while we were going up was this Campanula (bellflower) with its typical seed head; once I saw one, I started noticing it everywhere. Early summer must be quite spectacular there. It was nice to have Hüseyin along; he doesn't know Latin names but he does recognize plants, and can recognize almost anything no matter what stage it's at. Other plants we saw a lot of were various thistles, a Cerinthe species, Primulas, a semi-succulent Ajuga, Euphorbias, Stachys (tmolea?), several different Salvias, the seed heads of something that looked typically Muscari-like but maybe two feet tall, a hairy-leafed violet species, and lots of ferns. Since these were all growing at fairly low altitude, they should probably do well in the Istanbul garden as well.

A few other goodies included a very nice pale green sedum, which for some reason I didn't collect any of:

And some nice thistles, which I could appreciate in the wild but didn't really want to grow in the garden...

Uzun zamandır ziyaret etmek istediğim İstanbul'un yakınındaki bitki cennetlerinden biri, Uludağ'dır. Bölgedeki diğer dağlardan çok daha yüksek olduğundan pek çok endemik tür barındıran dağa hep "gideceğim" deyip mühtelif sebeplerden yolculuğumu erteliyordum...

Türkçenin devamı geliyor...

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