The Out­sider

Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Han­nah Gard­ner heads to North­ern Cyprus in search of ox-blood red Tulipa cypria, the is­land’s elu­sive na­tional flower

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS HAN­NAH GARD­NER IL­LUS­TRA­TION ALICE PATTULLO

Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Han­nah Gard­ner heads to North­ern Cyprus in search of the is­land’s elu­sive ox-blood tulip

The var­ied and dra­matic land­scapes of North­ern Cyprus are renowned in the botan­i­cal world for an as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety of flora. The showy lily fam­ily is well rep­re­sented with Fri­t­il­laria per­sica, Fri­t­il­laria ac­mopetala and tulips grow­ing wild here. You’ll find spec­tac­u­lar lime­stone moun­tains, an­cient olive and citrus groves, and a su­perb un­spoilt coast­line, with just a few scat­tered towns and vil­lages along the way. Since the par­ti­tion of Cyprus in 1974, North­ern Cyprus has re­mained largely iso­lated (the Turk­ish Repub­lic of North­ern Cyprus is still recog­nised only by Tur­key). It feels au­then­tic and retro, like a last un­de­vel­oped cor­ner of the Mediter­ranean. Lo­cal ini­tia­tives seek to pro­tect na­ture’s abun­dance by con­trol­ling over­graz­ing and cel­e­brat­ing the en­demic is­land flora.

In­spi­ra­tion for the trip

Since par­ti­tion, the is­land’s cap­i­tal Ni­cosia has also been di­vided and the city’s hebar­ium is in­ac­ces­si­ble from North­ern Cyprus. To fill this gap a new hebar­ium, housed in the main build­ing of the Alevkaya Forestry Sta­tion, was founded in 1989 by the Bri­tish Botanist Dr Deryck Viney.

The Alevkaya Herbar­ium holds nearly 1,250 spec­i­mens, in­clud­ing, taped on to thick, faded car­tridge pa­per, the frag­ile spec­i­men sheet for Cyprus’s na­tional flower, the al­lu­sive dark ox-blood Tulipa cypria.

When to go

The wild­flow­ers are best in March and April. The scorch­ing sun des­ic­cates the veg­e­ta­tion in sum­mer, while au­tumn rain brings a fresh flush of flow­ers last­ing well into the win­ter months.

Where to go

Tulipa cypria is a rare Cyprus en­demic that flow­ers be­tween March and April. Trea­sured pop­u­la­tions are to be found in North­ern Cyprus. A good place to start is near Koruçam. In March the nearby vil­lage Tepe­basi holds an an­nual Tulip fes­ti­val when guided botan­i­cal tours are avail­able and fes­tiv­i­ties plen­ti­ful. Find­ing these slen­der feral beau­ties grow­ing wild among the fi­la­gree fo­liage of gi­ant fen­nel and scrub gave me goose pim­ples and left a last­ing im­pres­sion. Close rel­a­tive Tulipa age­nen­sis is wide­spread through­out the eastern Mediter­ranean. Com­mon in North­ern Cyprus it forms im­pres­sive dis­plays on cul­ti­vated land. A bright scar­let with a prom­i­nent yellow blotch it is eas­ily dis­tin­guished from its sul­try cousin. Ed­i­ble crown daisies, Glebio­nis coro­naria, are also flow­er­ing at this time, drap­ing the dusty hills with bright sheets of colour.

Con­tin­u­ing west to the lower north­ern foothills of the Kyre­nia Moun­tains there are ex­ten­sive ar­eas of shrubby maquis. It is here you’ll find the honed-smooth, red-barked limbs of the eastern straw­berry tree ( Ar­bu­tus an­drachne), shrubby prickly oak ( Quer­cus coc­cifera) and pun­gent Pista­cia tere­binthus. Fiery yellow bea­cons of scented broom ( Cal­i­co­tome vil­losa) punc­tu­ate the cul­ti­vated land­scape of carob trees, olive groves and in spring the colour­ful and var­ied Ra­nun­cu­lus asi­ati­cus.

In­creas­ing in alti­tude the forests here are mainly Cal­abrian pine ( Pi­nus bru­tia) and cy­press, the for­est floor an or­nate car­pet of or­chids in spring, among them the sculp­tural mauve flow­ers of Orchis ana­tolica, the con­fi­dent shaggy Ital­ian orchid ( Orchis ital­ica) and a lit­tle later the en­demic bee orchid Ophrys kotschyi.

The most pic­turesque route for driv­ing to the Alevkaya Herbar­ium is to fol­low the twist­ing un­made ridge road that joins the Girne to Gaz­ima­gusa moun­tain road. The Herbar­ium, which is open daily (8am-4pm), has a pic­nic area shaded by pine trees and a small restau­rant that pro­vides de­li­cious lo­cal food. Walk­ing into the hills in au­tumn you’ll find the del­i­cate lilac au­tumn squill ( Scilla au­tum­nalis) hastily pop­u­lates open ground with oc­ca­sional groups of fra­grant pale Nar­cis­sus serot­i­nus scent­ing the breeze.

Stretch­ing to­wards main­land Tur­key the won­der­ful Karpaz Penin­sula is pop­u­lated by roam­ing herds of wild don­keys. The veg­e­ta­tion is mostly garigue, and empty sandy beaches that have their own unique flora in­clud­ing the spec­tac­u­lar white beach lily, Pan­cratium mar­iti­mum, that flow­ers in the au­tumn. Tulipa cypria can also be found here near Avtepe where the vil­lagers also hon­our the en­demic tulip with an­other an­nual fes­ti­val in spring.

Plants to grow at home

The wild red tulips dis­cussed here are sadly nei­ther avail­able nor easy to grow in cul­ti­va­tion. How­ever, there is a be­guil­ing scar­let species tulip from the north­ern coast of Tur­key that, while ex­tinct in the wild (a cau­tion­ary tale of over col­lec­tion dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury), is thriv­ing in cul­ti­va­tion. Tulipa spren­geri is the lat­est of the species tulips to flower. With strong nar­row stems of 30-40cm, its habit is grace­ful and un­der­stated, the cur­rant-red flow­ers open­ing in the sun­shine of early May. Tulipa spren­geri is happy in par­tial shade but needs some sun for its flow­ers to open fully. In a gar­den set­ting it will nat­u­ralise and seed if the seed­heads are left on the plant to ripen over the sum­mer months. I grow them in ar­eas of un­mown grass along­side Tulipa acumi­nata and Ca­mas­sia. The small bulbs work their way deep into the fer­tile but free-drain­ing soil, avoid­ing pre­da­tion by squir­rels, their group steadily in­creas­ing – al­though pa­tience is re­quired as you have a four-year wait from seedling to flower.

Guides and maps

Walk­ing in Cyprus: 44 Walks in the South and the North by Nike Wer­stroh and Jacint Mig (Cicerone, 2017). Wild Flow­ers of Cyprus by Ge­orge Sfikas (Ef­s­tathiadis, 1992).

Where to stay

TasEv Guest­house Müftü Ziyai Efendi Sokak 33, Leftkosa.2369, Cyprus. Tel +90 542 862 1379, ta­sevle­ An old stone town­house in Turk­ish north­ern Ni­cosia, also known as Leftkosa. Re­vak­liEv Guest­house Karpaz Anay­olu, Ri­zokarpaso, 8999. Cyprus. Tel + 90 542 874 21 60, re­vak­ A ro­man­tic pen­sion on the Karpaz Penin­sula.

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