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Where the Wild Things Are

The botanist Andrew Byfield relives the happy days he spent last spring in the crystalline air of Bozdağ, in the Taurus Mountains of southwest Turkey. Flowers thrive there in the harsh climate on bare limestone cliffs and in fractured gullies, and cedar of Lebanon and black pine brave all that nature can throw at them. Photographs by Andrew Byfield

  • With a world population of probably just a few thousand plants, the diminutive Fritillaria byfieldii, described as recently as 2000, is still only known from a few fine limestone screes on Bozdağ. Andrew Byfield, who first discovered the flower, photographed this example in 2019

The great writer and plantsman Reginald Farrer wrote in his preface to Rainbow Bridge, in the last year of the First World War: “Across the distress of the present I wonder if I shall be able to escape successfully into the sunshine of the past?”

By the time the volume hit the bookshops, Farrer had died, “far away in the wilds of Upper Burmah, in the course of another adventurous journey, on October 16, 1920”. Happy – at least one hopes – to be among his beloved mountain flowers. As the skies fall silent today, with aircraft grounded, and we are all “confined to barracks” as coronavirus stalks the land, my heart, too, yearns for the crystal-clear air of the mountains, and the myriad flowers that bloom on their lonesome slopes.

A year ago, the Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel and I climbed Bozdağ in Turkey’s extreme southwest, spending a magical interlude on this glorious mountain. It’s a place I have returned to on perhaps five occasions since the early 1990s, and if I had to choose one spot as my favourite in the whole of Turkey, this might just be it. It is blessed with a fabulous flora and, as we shall see, is the only place on this planet for a plant of which I am especially fond. So we touched down in the early evening of May 9, and three short days later our own “adventurous journey” was over.

Rather than drive our hired car over rough ground in search of snowdrops, scraping off the vehicle’s underbelly on every rocky track, we left our Nissan, gleaming white and incongruous, alone in the heart of a dark forest, and struck out on foot.

Here on the northern flanks of Bozdağ, expansive forests of Aegean pine (Pinus brutia) have been systematically thinned by foresters and thoroughly rootled by wild boar, but in spite of the disturbance there are plants to be found. Lusty clumps of the helleborine orchid Cephalanthera epipactoides bear dense spikes of glistening white flowers picked out by beams of sunlight, in stark contrast to the sylvan shade beyond. On rocky ground the silvered, heart-shaped leaves of the endemic Cyclamen alpinum hint at an abundance of magenta flowers earlier in the season. How sad that this unimaginative name has usurped the better-known trochopteranthum, from the Greek for windmill and flower. But taxonomic rules must be followed – the first name given takes priority…

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Issue 61, Summer 2020 The Road to Pergamon
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 61
  • Norman Stone

    Roger Norman looks back over the life of the late historian and writer Norman Stone – always unconventional, sometimes difficult, frequently mischievous – who, after less-than-happy times teaching at Oxford and Cambridge and a stint as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, chose to make his home in Turkey

  • ‘Health to the Body, Food to the Soul’

    Centuries ago, travellers to Turkey were amazed by a new, uplifting taste sensation: the sherbet, flowery or fruity, and served with ice. Berrin Torolsan traces the history of sherbets and the sorbets made from them, and serves up an irresistible array of cooling summery treats

  • Café Come Home

    Istanbul without coffee houses is a day without sun. It was here that they were born, and they are still as individual and interesting as their clientele. Savour them while you can, says Andrew Finkel. Photo essay by Monica Fritz

  • Vanishing Villages

    Can ingenious new ideas coupled with old country wisdom stave off the long-predicted death of the Anatolian village? We sent two keen conservationists to Turkey’s lake district. The writer Nicholas Haslam found reasons for hope. The photographer Paul Veysseyre captured the poignant beauty of its tumbledown houses

  • Emigré’s Escape

    In 1919 the Ukrainian artist Alexis Gritchenko fled Russia for Istanbul. Here he befriended Turkish artists and walked the streets, keeping a diary and making sketches, then applying ‘dynamos’ of colour. A new exhibition throws light on his stay in the city

  • The Road to Pergamon

    A shared fascination with the Roman Empire impelled Britain’s greatest photographer, Sir Donald McCullin, to join the writer Barnaby Rogerson on a foray to the Troad to capture Rome’s Aegean legacy

Good places to stay
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Issue 61, Summer 2020 The Road to Pergamon
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