Flowers of Istanbul

Spring has come to Istanbul. It came several weeks ago because like so many entities and organizations in Turkey, spring does not subcribe to Western imperialism. This includes not abiding by the Gregorian calendar and the absurdity of specifing the beginning and end of four seasons based on careful calculations of the Earth’s spiral trip around the sun.

I live in the remains of European medieval society. This means I live human community which spread and grew in a time when walking was the way most people got to work and went back home. How far can you walk in an hour? Therefore there are not vast unpopulated green spaces like you find in the USA.

Worse yet, since the Turks conquered these ancient lands, less importance was given to open squares. In more “Western” parts of Europe -say to the East in Russia, or to the South in Crete, the city square has served as an important place for society to carry out some of its most important practices, such as electing public servants and decapitating  public servants. In Ottoman society, however, covered or enclosed spaces such as mosques, the gardens of mosques, tea houses and the home were where people met to discuss policy. Executions can be carried out anywhere, such as in teh street and in front of peoples houses. As many a concubine learned briefly, the Bosforus is great place to execute people.

For this reason (the lack of open space, not the executions), Istanbul lacks in green space. The only green spaces accesible by walking are empty pieces of ground that sometimes remain between two concrete structures, hills sides of more than 400 degrees angle, and cementaries.

As I feel that I have learned as much as I currently care to learn about the various cultures and peoples who have lived and died in this city, my eye returns to nature. I walk around with binoculars to identify gulls as migration is entering its peak.

I also walk around with the worst wildflower fieldguide money can buy, the Collins Wildflower Guide of Britain and Europe by W. Lippert and  D. Podlech. I imagine their given names are in fact Worthless and Dingleberry, respectively. But, you have to make do with what you got!

I guess it is worth mentioning that the only reason why this book is worth my time at all, is because I have an incredible modern phone with an internet connection that allows me to check hypothesis with Google image searches.

Yesterday, on my way to one of my clients, I identified the following plants. I found them, in the remains of a train yard, along the streets, often forcing their way through cracks in concrete.

  • Bellis perennis
  • Euphorbia peplus
  • Capsella busa-pastoris
  • Taxacum officinale
  • Runculus ficaria
  • Lamium maculatum
  • Amanthus lividus
  • Veronica persica
  • Senecio vulgaris
  • Carduus acanthoides
  • Arenaria serpyllifolia
  • Funeria officinalis
  • Sinapis alba
  • Euphorbia helioscopia

Of course, there were many more herbaceous plants that I was not able to identify. As I gain more knowledge and experience -and a better field guide, I will learn more about the plants around me. I find that knowing about the life around you brings great joy. I am interested in learning about architectural types too. After all, they to were made by life. But somehow, if it isn’t ancient or broken I don’t care much. I am most interested in learning about life.

For your viewing unpleasure, I share images of the above plants, taken not to show them off well, nor for proper identification, but just as a tool to learn their names. Is it possible that I misidentified some of these plants? Indubitably I have!

The observant observer will observe upon observation that some of these plants look familiar.

  • Amaranthus, of course is of teh Lambs Quater’s family. You like to eat the Peruvian relative: quinoa
  • One of the yellow flowers Taraxacum is of course, Dandelion -the lion’s tooth.
  • The daisy is a daisy.
  • Euphobia is a plant with super wide distribution and has many catus-like relatives such as Euphorbia baioensis If you like puking, I recommend eating this plant!
  • The pink-violet thistle (Carduus) is in fact a close relative of your lovely artichoke. Its latin name being Carduus, its name in Spanish today cardo, it also gives us the scientific name for the European Goldfinch which also flutters about in the cementaries and minicule gardens of Istanbul. Guess what food finches love to eat.
  • Sinapis alba, is of course is White Mustard. White mustard is a member of the cabbage family. Many members and cultivars of this family are consumed all over the world, especially at high latitudes, where its antifreeze properties have helped it adapt well. Or has its good adaptation lead to developing antifreeze  -we may never know.

If you are curious about what wild flowers there are in the region, here is a good resource:


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