Spring is the season we mostly associate with flowers, and this is indeed the time of greatest abundance, but we should not forget the flowers of other seasons. Among those of the winter season, there are some which bloom while the snow is still on the ground. The outstanding diversity of Turkey’s vegetation is due to its unique geographical structure, representing three major flora zones: The northern regions have a flora typical of Northern Europe and Siberia, the southern regions that of the Mediterranean, and the interior an Irano-Turanian flora.
Altogether 9500 species of plants grow in Turkey, an enormous number when we remember that the entire flora of Europe amounts to 12,000 species. So Turkey is a single country possessing biodiversity which rivals that of a continent.
What is more, 3000 of these plants are endemic, in other words, unique to Turkey.
Winter is a difficult time for herbaceous flowering plants. In this season most lose their leaves and their stems wither. Either their roots and bulbs survive beneath the soil, or they wait out the winter as seeds. However, there are some species which continue their active life in winter, even producing flowers. The majority of such plants are found in the Mediterranean region, primarily due to the mild climate, but also for geomorphological and topographic reasons. Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is one such a plant, clumps of which are found flowering in late winter and early spring. As soon as the snow melts in the Toros Mountains the bright yellow petals of this flower bring colour to the grey limestone and grassy pastures near Tarsus.
The best-known flower associated with winter is undoubtedly the snowdrop (Galanthus), but numerous species of crocus, mountain windflower (Anemone blanda) and poppy anemone (Anemone coronaria) also flower in winter in various parts of this region. The lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), a member of the Christmas rose family, is another example.
The snowdrop flower consists of three white sepals and hangs its head on the delicate green stem. There are ten natives species of snowdrop in Turkey, some to be found on the snow-covered high pastures of the Bolu Mountains, some in the oak forest around Istanbul, and others at the foot of snowy limestone rocks in Taþlý Kilikya. When the temperature begins to rise and the earth to warm up, the snowdrops push their heads through the snow. Excessive harvesting has endangered this beautiful flower, which can be grown easily in gardens in the right climate, or as an indoor pot plant.
Turkey also has ten natives species of cyclamen, which grow over a wide altitude range from sea level to 2400 metres. Some of these species produce lovely pink, white or red flowers in early winter, and continue to bloom throughout the winter months. The species Cyclamen coum, which is widespread in the Black Sea region, grows in clumps in woodland and amongst rocks, sometimes colouring great swathes of ground with its small pink flowers. These may sometimes be seen in the snow as the soil warns up. Many cultivated varieties of cyclamen are to be found in florists and nurseries. The crocus, one of the best known and best-loved flowers in Turkey, grows in a wide range of habitats, including forests, mountains and plains. Some species flower in winter and early spring and others in autumn. Their flowers are formed of six narrow petals, and they may paint large areas of meadows or mountainsides yellow or purple. The saffron crocus (Crocus fleischeri) has three orange stigmas, and it is these which are gathered and dried for culinary use.
The lenten rose is an evergreen which grows in deciduous forest, its glossy dark green leaves and pale yellow flowers easily spotted against the brown carpet of fallen leaves. Ruscus hypoglossum is a woodland plant that lights up the winter season not with flowers but with its bright red berries, which make it easy to spot. The rosehips of the wild dogrose (Rosa canina) remain on the bush after the leaves have fallen, lending decorative colour to the landscape, particularly against the white ground after the snow has fallen.
So winter is a time to look out for plants and even flowers, that by their greater rarity lend additional pleasure and interest to country walks and hikes.