The Greenery and Seagulls of İstanbul

Because it is situated between two continents, two seas with different weather conditions, and also because it possesses soil qualities unique in their own right, İstanbul is rich in various kinds of natural plants and animals. The city, especially during the Ottoman era, was famous for its forests and horticulture. There are two thousand distinct kinds of indigenous flowering plants and ferns in the city, 270 of them being quite rare. Wildlife in forests, pastures, scrublands and waterways is still very rich.

İstanbul, blessed with rare climactic and topographic conditions, is still a plant, forest and wild flower paradise. İstanbul hosts one of the three rarest forms of heath in the world (The others being found along the coasts of Western Europe and on hilltops in South Africa). The heaths around the Omerli Barrage river basin are home to 12 types of rare plants and 16 species of rare birds.

Some of the rare plants that grow in İstanbul's natural habitat are; Bosphorus Flax (Bogazici keteni), lstanbul's thousand hole herb (İstanbul binbirdelik out), the İstanbul Crocus (İstanbul Cigdemi), Catalca prophet flower (Catalca peygambercicegi), Halkali comforter herb (Halkali emzikotu), lstanbul flax (İstanbul keteni),Bosphorus Thyme (İstanbul kekigi)..These are only found in İstanbul.

İstanbul was once rich not only in forests or heath but in fruit orchards and vegetable gardens as well. Vineyards, vegetable and medicinal herb gardens were once very common The Cengelkoy cucumber, The Bayrampasa artichoke; the Langa lettuce, the Beykoz eggplant and the Arnavutkoy strawberry were legendary. The city once was provided for with fruits and vegetables from its gardens which today no longer exist.

There are two types of plant habitat in İstanbul; natural vegetation such as forests and heath, and man-made gardens and parks. Macqui -style scrubland is usually found  the southern part of the city, while maqui-like habitats exist in the northern part: Forest Rose (Orman gulu), Big Fruit (Kocayemiş), Mespilus Germanica (Musmula),Juniper Tar (Katranardici), Blackberry (Bogurtlen),  Firethorn (Atesdi keni), Raspberry (Ah ududu), Cornelius Cherry (Kizilcik), Sandfly (Uvez),Thorned Myrtle (Dikenli mersin), laurel(Defne), White Oak (Akca mese) are just some of the types of trees that can be found in İstanbul.

The weather and soil conditions of İstanbul are very suitable for the formations of forests. İstanbul has both moisture resistant and drought resistant trees. Trees such as the Eastern beech, Oak, Hornbeam, Silvery Linden, Black tree???, Lombard Poplar, Turkish Oak, Eastern Hornbeam, Sloe and Medlar can all be encountered in İstanbul.

The historical quality of İstanbul's flora is also important. The city has many monumental trees. One of the oak trees in Yildiz Park is 500 years old, an eastern plane tree it the Anadolukavağı district is 470 years old and a poplar in the district of Kadiköy is 380 years old.

Two wet forests on different continents, the Belgrade Forest and the Alemdağ Forest, appear to be extensions of each other and they host specific species of plants: oak, beech, chestnut, horn beam, red tree, maple...And the Fatih Forest is a good example of reforestation in spite of all the destruction.

Humans, animals, water, trees and flowers are all part of the big picture. Gardens define the relation between man and nature. We know for a fact that there were beautiful gardens in the city during the era of the East Roman Empire. The Ottomans also attached great importance to gardens. Gardens like the Tokat Garden in the district of Beykoz and the Bebek Garden in Bebek Celebi, which were established by Mehmet II after the siege of Constantinople, are the earliest examples of that effort.

Houses with gardens were the priority during the reconstruction of the city by Mehmet II. Houses with courtyards and gardens became more common at that time. Especially during the 17th and 18th century's garden designs admired by western travelers were established in palaces, waterfront palaces, and private gardens of the Sultans, hunting villas and mansions. Structures such as terraces, walls, railings, water patterns, pools, fountains, jets, arbors with ivy, bowers, flowerbeds, rose gardens, tulip gardens and grassy plots could be seen. İstanbul was rendered festive with the planting of      trees like the plane, linden, aesculaceae, turpentine, cypress, willow, mastic and pine. During the Tulip Era, 800 different types of tulips were grown; later on this number was raised to two thousand.

Especially during the months of April and May, with all its pink, purple, red, white, green and yellow - İstanbul is a festival of colors, a web of smells. A celebration of natural beauty that challenges the beauty of domesticated flowers: The Judas tree, Purple Wisteria, Wild rose, Tulip, Hyacinth, Carnation, Jonquil, Wallflower­ all blossoms that have been in the city from the beginning; or ones which were transplanted from the city of Edirne, the capital of the Ottomans before the conquest: Basil, Mountain Saffron, Geranium, Passiflora, Honeysuckle, Jonqui I, Lilac, Violet, Peony, Chrysanthe mum, pine-needle, Clover, Acacia, Orchid..

The city's natural life, which has been constantly exploited for almost 27 centuries, is under great threat because of the negative developments of the past 50 years. Rare plants are almost extinct, common species have started to disappear; forests and green sites are diminishing. The Belgrade Forest, which was 13 thousand hectares and extended all the way to the district of Levent in the 17th century, is now only 5 thousand hectares. Nevertheless, there are many natural beauties and parks that are ready to welcome its visitors such as The Belgrade Forest, The Fatih Forrest, Yildiz Park, Emirgan Park, Gulhane Park (the park in the grounds of Topkapi Palace), Odayeri in the district of Kemerburgaz, Azizpaşa Forest, Taşdelen in the Alemdag district, Kavacik, Beykoz, Kaymakdonduran, Sultaniye, the Abrahampaşa Grove, Çamlıca, the hills of Aydos and the groves of the Bosphorus.

İstanbul is also rich in bird and marine life. The city is not only the intersection point of many cultures, but is also the crossing point of all migrating birds. Birds that have to fly more over land than sea cannot help but drop by in İstanbul on their Northern Europe to Africa migration route. This situation livens up İstanbul's skies. But what makes İstanbul unique are its own local birds such as the seagull, turtledove, rock pigeon, starling, sparrow, nightingale, cormorant, woodcock, quail...

The city, which is situated between two seas, is also very rich in wild marine life; migratory species such as the bluefish and its various subspecies, the short finned tunney; large bonito and mackerel, which travel between the Black sea and the Marmora (and even the Aegean Sea, depending on the season); and local ones like chub mackerel, striped goatfish, red mullet and sea bream...

There's quite a notable 'fish culture' in İstanbul. Known as the 'fish of the poor', the various recipes for the large bonito alone is enough to show you the depth of this culture: Grilled, stewed, stuffed, boiled, steamed, salted....Salted tunny is also still a local favorite. Turbot, swordfish, sardines, sea bass, red sea bream, whiting, striped goatfish, mussels, oysters and squid are still very tasty in İstanbul. The fish markets are among the most colorful, lively places in the city.

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