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Along the Rocky Road

Flowers in the high passes of the Taurus

When spring arrives in the high passes of the Taurus Mountains, a dazzling display of flowers comes out to greet it. Story and photographs by Martyn Rix

  • A verbascum in the arid Sertavul Pass. In its third summer this plant forms a great spike of yellow flowers two metres tall. Its furry leaves retain moisture and discourage grazing. They also make a good poultice for cuts and wounds. Turkey has more than 300 different species

The dry and barren Taurus Mountains form a barrier along the south of Turkey, dividing the steppes of western Anatolia from the lush Mediterranean coast. Between Antalya and Adana there are only six passes across this mountain barrier, the five in the west leading to Konya, the sixth the ancient route through the Cilician Gates, from which the road goes past the great salt lake, Tuz Gölü, to Ankara and Kayseri. Most of the coastal plain is densely cultivated, while the high mountains are barren and largely waterless, with scattered villages and few fertile areas. My wife Alison and I explored many of these valleys with our two teenage daughters during a two-week visit in April.

Bleakest of all the passes we climbed, and crossing a typical Taurus landscape, is the Sertavul Pass between Mut and Karaman, at 1,650 metres. Rolling hills of bare limestone stretch over the horizon of the plateau, and what little vegetation there is looks brown and dead, having only just emerged from its winter covering of snow. Even in mid-April the sun was blazing hot, the air cold. Most of the plants here form spiny cushions, the so-called “hedgehog cushion steppe” characteristic of the higher and drier parts of Anatolia.

Many of these plants, protected by their spines, are milk-vetches (Astragalus) or species of thrift-like Acantholimon; others, like the spectacular rosettes of the mullein (Verbascum), have felt-like leaves covered in dense silver hair, both to discourage animals and to reduce water loss in the drought of summer…

Martyn Rix is the editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, founded in 1787 and published on behalf of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is also a regular Cornucopia contributor on botany in Turkey. For the bulbs of the lower Taurus Mountains see Cornucopia 29.

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To read the full article, purchase Issue 31

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Issue 31, 2004 China’s Wild West
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 31
  • The Turks of China

    Xinjiang, formerly known as Chinese Turkestan, is home to some ten million people of Turkic descent. Their culture, language and religious beliefs still owe more to central Asia and the northern steppes than they do to China itself. As distant from the China Sea as it is from the Mediterranean, Xinjiang is a place of wild terrain and extreme climate, surrounded by high mountain ranges. By Christian Tyler

  • Black Diamonds

    Though Turkish truffles resemble their more famous European cousins in appearance, their fragrance – mellow and delicately fruity – is far milder.
    More cookery features

  • Vintage Cappadocia

    Is this fantastic landscape about to become the new hotspot for wine-lovers? In Cornucopia 31 Kevin Gould heads for the oldest vineyards on earth to find out. Photographs by Frits Meyst

  • The Doorman’s Son who Saved the Empire

    Born into penury, he rose to be revered across Europe. Yet the Ottoman Empire’s youngest ever grand vizier is all but forgotten at home. David Barchard charts the dramatic career of the master strategist Âli Pasha

  • The Caliph’s Daughter

    Her life is the stuff of fairy tales. Omar Khalidi tells the story of the princess who captivated Cecil Beaton

Good places to stay
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Issue 31, 2004 China’s Wild West
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