Whilst most of the plants we feature as Plants of the Month are new to Turkey, we do believe that more attention should be given to plants which are native to Turkey and, from time to time, we focus on such specimens.

Whilst most of the plants we feature as Plants of the Month are new to Turkey, we do believe that more attention should be given to plants which are native to Turkey and, from time to time, we focus on such specimens.  This month and next we are featuring two plants native to the Mediterranean region, often encountered in the wild and yet, we believe, not used as much as they could be in our gardens: the myrtle and mastic trees.

Myrtle – Myrtus Communis

We will consider two types of myrtle found within the ‘Myrtaceae’ family.  Both are found in the wild in southern Europe and north Africa, and are evergreen, large shrubs reaching a height of 3 – 5 metres.    In the southern hemisphere there are other types of myrtle such as Lophomyrtus, Luma and Ugni.  Of our two types one is native to northern Africa, particularly Algeria and Chad and is called the Sahara Myrtle or Myrtus nivelli.

In our country the other type, Myrtus communis (‘mersin’ in Turkish) is found.  It is an aromatic plant.  Its oval leaves, 3 – 5cm in length, release a pleasant smell when crushed in the hand.  It has white, star-shaped flowers, with five petals, five sepals and numerous stamens.  It makes blue-black berries which contain many seeds.

Myrtle not only features in Greek mythology, but is also an important plant in the context of rural life in our own country.  According to the myths Aphrodite (Venus) was born on the island of Cyprus then rode on a wave to Cnidos near Dat柠where she emerged from the sea naked and hid behind a myrtle bush.  To this day people in the Mediterranean region of Turkey, on religious holidays and other special occasions, visit the graves of their dead and lay myrtle branches and leaves upon them.  Myrtle berries are edible and, because of their special aroma, are added to jams or even made into an exclusively myrtle berry preserve.  Many herbal remedies include the berries.

Because of its bright green leaves, beautiful flowers, interesting fruit and its ability to withstand the long, dry summers myrtle deserves to be more widely used in gardens.  It is a crucial element of any natural Mediterranean garden.  It can be planted alone or in groups, and used as hedging.  It is propagated from seeds planted in the autumn or spring, or from half-hard cuttings taken in summer.  It needs full sun and good draining soil but will withstand temperatures down to -8 or -10C.

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Nowadays there are many new hybrid varieties of myrtle including a compact form; Flore Pleno which has double white flowers; Microphylla whose leaves and flowers are tiny; Variegata which has leaves edged in white; Tarentina which has thin, needle-like leaves and creamy white flowers.

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