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First lady of the crocus

The botanist Asuman Baytop (1920–2015)

Brian Mathew looks back on the achievements of the late Asuman Baytop, who died in February. Portrait by Cafer Türkmen

Although those who knew Prof Dr Asuman Baytop will understandably be saddened by the news of her death on Wednesday, February 18, we must at the same time give thanks for a long and influential botanical career.

Her publications on various aspects of the Turkish flora are numerous, and the large and important herbarium of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Istanbul University (ISTE) – which she set up – includes a significant number of specimens she collected in Turkey during her wide-ranging travels. Her life’s work, the herbarium contains 58,000 specimens, of which she personally collected 23,300.

These collections greatly enhanced the materials available for researchers on the immense Flora of Turkey project (edited by PH Davis and published by the University of Edinburgh Press), to which she contributed. Volume 8 of the Flora (1984) was dedicated jointly to Asuman and her late husband, the celebrated botanist Turhan Baytop, also of Istanbul University, who died in 2002. The couple often went on plant-hunting ‘excursions’ together.

Asuman Baytop was born in Istanbul in 1920 and graduated in pharmacy from Istanbul University in 1943. Apart from a break in Switzerland to study for a doctorate, her career centred on the Faculty of Pharmacy, and she was appointed director of its Department of Pharmaceutical Botany in 1964. In 1987 she became emeritus professor and specialised in the study of the history of botany in Turkey.

These researches culminated in 2003 with the publication of her collected articles in Türkiye’de Botanik Tarihi Araştırmaları (Studies on the History of Botany in Turkey), edited by her daughter, Prof Dr Feza Günergun.

On a personal note, it gave me great pleasure to name a Crocus species in her honour: Crocus asumaniae, discovered by Asuman in 1973 near Akseki, above Antalya. In the same year she collected on Honaz Dağ, near Denizli, the first specimens of Crocus baytopiorum, notable for its unique pale turquoise-blue.

Asuman Baytop was a cultured and courteous lady, always with a warm welcome for those on study visits to the ISTE herbarium. We send condolences to her daughter, Feza, and other family members.

The Bulbous Plants of Turkey, by Brian Mathew and Turhan Baytop, is out of print, but available secondhand from Amazon.

ERRATUM: In the original print version of this article, we incorrectly stated that the Istanbul University herbarium contained 23,300 specimens (rather than 58,000), of which Asuman Baytop personally collected almost 1900 (rather than 23,300). The editor, rather the author, must take responsibility for this error.

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