A New ‘Upside Down Tulip’ Discovered in Turkey

Discovered by two Turkish scientists, a new flower found in southern Anatolia has been added to the rich diversity of Fritillaria flowers.

A new species of a flower has been identified in southern Turkey. Named “Arsuz lalesi (Arsuz tulip)” after the town where it was found, it was a surprise find for two scientists who first came across the beautiful blossom a couple of years back.

“The flower looks like an upside down tulip, and its Latin name is Fritillaria arsusiana,” said Mehtap Teksen, a botanist from Aksaray University, who along with Hasan Yildirim, a taxonomist from Ege University, made the discovery.

The duo previously worked on a book on illustrated flora of Turkey in 2018 and Teksen wrote about Fritillaria in the lily segment in the two-volume book. But it was only recently that they discovered that what Yildirim had catalogued is a completely new species of the flower.

“In the last count, there were 46 Frittilaria genus of lilies in Turkey, 21 of which are endemic to the country,” Teksen said. “There are three genetic origin centres in the world for these flowers: one is in Central Asia, one is in North America, around California, and one is in Turkey,” she added.

“There are a lot of endemic species in Turkey,” Teksen said, “even more so than in Iran and Greece, which also have a lot of species, but not as many as Turkey.”

Hasan Yildirim had collected the samples of Arsuz lalesi [Fritillaria arsusiana (Liliaceae)] more than a decade ago. That was in April 2008 when he was focusing on a project for Tubitak (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey). But the samples he had collected were not a primary focus for him at the time.

He dried and photographed them, and in the book on which he collaborated with Teksen, they were mentioned as Fritillaria amana, an existing species mainly found around Kahramanmaras in southeastern Turkey, and identified by the same name.

The two scientists went back to study the flower this year, this time also taking photographs into consideration, which can give a more accurate perspective about shape and colour in contrast to dried samples. “We eliminated the possibility that it could be a hybrid because there weren’t probable parent plants within a certain radius,” Teksen said.

Yildirim and Teksen, in a paper published in the New Zealand journal Phytotaxa, explain that Fritillaria arsusiana is “related to F. amana and F. hermonis by habitus features and broadly campanulate flowers, but differs mainly by its bulb shape and size, smaller leaf and flower features, and flower colour.”

Teksen told TRT World that the plant has “broadly bell-shaped” flowers, while Yildirim pointed out the “purplish brown” colour of the flower and the “yellow tips”. According to Teksen, the leaves are matte green, which is also a distinguishing feature of this bulbous plant that grows on serpentine soil. It was found at 1,540 metres from sea level. “Fritillaria plants can be found up to 2,500-3,000 metres high,” she added.

Teksen also mentioned Fritillaria plants have been used in Chinese medicine, and can have medical uses if they are cultivated in a lab environment, such as the one in Erzincan in eastern Turkey. “More research is needed, but the bulbs of the species growing in Turkey may even be used in cancer medication one day,” she said.

Yildirim said that Fritillaria arsusiana should be considered a Critically Endangered (CR) flower based on IUCN criteria. This classification is offered to species whose population is restricted to less than 50 mature individuals.

“There is a road going right through the midst of where the plant population is in Amanos Mountains in Iskenderun, Hatay. They can be damaged. There are also villagers with their livestock in the area, which could result in the plants being trampled. These flowers should be protected, and local authorities should cast a protective arm, so to speak, around them.”

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