Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 43

May/June 2014
41
Although the greater migration of flow-
ers west from China did not begin until
the mid-18th century, a treatise entitled
Tuhfe-i Çera
ğ
an (The Excellence of Fes-
tivals
), written in the early 18th century
during the reign of Sultan Ahmed
III
, gives
an idea of how nocturnal flower-viewing
festivals by lamplight came from China
with returning embassies.
Above all, however, information
on various flowers comes from beauti-
fully illustrated treatises, some of the
finest examples of which are preserved
in the library at Topkapı in Istanbul. A
Sümbülname (Hyacinth book
), dating
from about 1736, illustrates 42 varieties.
(Ironically, judging by their names, one
or two had come back to the Ottoman
world from Holland.) Other albums give
detailed information on the provenance
of the flowers, their cultivation and often
notes on major plant breeders and col-
lectors, as well as the names of famous
bulbs and their owners, and even prices.
“The narcissus came from Algeria. It
was first sown here by Ahmed Çelebi,”
writes Abdullah Efendi in
Sükûfenamesi,
a
17th-century treatise on narcissi. He goes
on to describe varieties and their cultiva-
tion, illustrating dozens. This contrasts
with earlier writers, who offered much
sketchier information. For example, the
Persian traveler Nasr-i Khusraw writes of
his journey on the coast road from Hama
to Damascus in 1047 that “we came to a
plain that everywhere was covered with
narcissus flowers in bloom, and the whole
plain appeared white thereby,”
yet he provides no further details.
And Ibn Bassal only mentions
“white narcissus,” “yellow narcis-
sus” and “jonquil” in Spain, even
though it was a center of diversity
for narcissi.
England has its own native wild
daffodil (
Narcissus pseudonarcis-
sus
), made famous by Wordsworth,
but by the 16th century, gardeners
were on the lookout for new varieties. John Tradescant, a
noted horticulturalist, writes in one of his plant lists:
Reseved in the yeare 1630 from forrin partes. From
Constantinople Sr Peter Wyche [the British ambassador]:
….On narciss
On ciclaman
4 renuncculuses
Tulippe Caffa
Tulippe perse
4 sortes of Anemones….
Two years later, he received hyacinths, tulips and
several kinds of narcissus, including “Narcissus Constanti-
nopolis,” which was probably
Narcissus tazetta
, the variety
admired by Nasir-i Khusraw.
There are books on carnations and other flowers, but roses
and, of course, tulips, were by far the most popular. According
to an 18th-century treatise, it was Ebüssuud Efendi, the chief
judge under Suleiman the Magnificent, who was responsible for
the popularization of tulips. For instance, when he was given a
white tulip—probably a spontaneous mutation discovered grow-
ing wild in Turkey’s Bolu region—he propagated it in his garden.
Another
Sükûfenamesi
, by Fenni Çelebi, provides extensive in-
formation about the “Cretan tulips” collected and propagated by
Mehmed Aga, perhaps to while away the 21-year siege of Candia
(Heraklion) in Crete—the longest siege in history. The Venetian-
ruled city finally fell to Ottoman forces in 1669, whereupon he
was able to take his flower collection safely home to Istanbul.
By the 16th century, the passion for new and exotic varieties of
flora had taken firm root in Europe, and flowers like tulips were
“THERE WERE THOSE WHO HAD
FLOWERS IMPORTED WITH THE
GREATEST DIFFICULTY FROM INDIA,
FROM MAGHRIB AND ALGERIA, AND
FROM DISTANT EUROPEAN COUNTRIES,
AND WHO SPENT ALL THEIR TIME
BREEDING AND CULTIVATING
FLOWERS…. [I]N SOME ACCOUNTS
IT IS RECORDED THAT THE NUMBER
OF VARIETIES AND KINDS OF TULIP
REACHED 481 OF WHICH 149 ALONE
WERE FROM CRETE AND CYPRUS.”
–Abdülaziz Bey, c. 1900, cited in Nurhan Atasoy,
A Garden for the Sultan,
2002
An illustration from the 17th-century German Album Amicorum (Album
of Friendship) shows a number of flowers introduced from the East
including tulips, irises, anemones, a fritillary, wild gladiolus, and more.
The popularity of
tulips, both as
flowers and as
motifs, spread
west and north
from Turkey. In
Durrës, Albania,
this 18th-century
minaret is adorned
with tulips.
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