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THE ORCHIDS IN ANATOLIA

There are about 148 different orchid species growing in Turkey and 40 of these are endemic, that is, they are found in Turkey alone. Turkey is home to almost as many orchid species as those that are grown in the entirety of the European continent. Turkey has more endemic species than any other country in the region. In terms of its flora Turkey has been consisdered its own continent. Altogether there are 12,000 known species of plants in Europe, while Turkey alone has approximately 9,000 of those. Out of these 3,000 are endemic which accentuate the importance of the Anatolian biodiversity.

Most orchids flower in the spring, although it is possible to find blooming orchids at any season in Turkey. In the spring months the hills and mountains are covered with orchids of all colors and sizes. They grow in such varied habitats so it is possible to find orchids on the alpine meadows of the Kaçkar Mountains, in the Black Sea region, in the maquis scrub of the Aegean, and in the pine forests high in the Taurus Mountains along the Mediterranean coast. But of all the places in Turkey where orchids can be found, it is the southwestern province of Mugla, which is home to the most species, at nearly seventy. In March and April at least five or six orchid species bloom on the coastal meadowlands. If you return to the same meadows a couple of weeks later you will find their place taken by five or six different species.

Those to whom the word orchid conjures up an image of the exotic species sold in florists may not immediately recognize orchids when they come across them while wandering in the Turkish countryside. These are less flamboyant and extravagant in size than their tropical cousins, but they are equally exquisite when closely examined. The tiny purple flowers of the green-winged orchid (Orchis morio), for instance, are captivating. As you walk along be on the lookout, too, for the spiraling flower spike of lady's tresses (Spiranthes spiralis), a frail plant seldom more than 10 cm tall with small flowers that look like dancing butterflies. These miniature flowered orchids open the door into the magical world of Turkish orchids.

At the other end of the spectrum are the large and striking species known as the giant orchids of the genus Himantoglossum, which grow to 50 cm in height, and Anacamptis pyramidalis with over thirty flowers on each stem. The Anatolian orchid (Orchis anatolica), a species named after Anatolia, again has all the beauty of a butterfly in flight. Out of these the most inriguing are the members of the bee orchid genus Ophrys, which are characterized by flowers with an uncanny resemblance to bees or other insects. This deception attracts bees and insects to the flowers as color and scent do to other flowers.

Reference: Onder Erdem / SKYLIFE

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