Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Plants of Turkey

I will be experimenting with a new type of article as I am currently traveling around Turkey for plant collections. I traveled from the capital, Ankara, to areas in central Turkey and finally along the Mediterranean and up along the Aegean sea to Istanbul. I have found that Turkey cultivates a wide range of edible plants as crops, many of which I did not expect. There are also a good deal of wild varieties of common edible plants as well (i.e. Peas, Pyrus, Malus). Turkey is a country diverse in climates and habitats, in some areas Tobacco and Tea are cultivated, and in other places even Kiwis are cultivated!

Some of the interesting plants of Turkey I have come across include temperate crops, tropical fruits, and spices. To list a few: Cicer, Apple, Pear, Pomegranite, Apricot, Peach, Poppies and Anise, among many more common crops. I was surprised though to see a wide range of tropical plants being cultivated in the Mediterranean region of southern Turkey. The land that is very close to the Mediterranean sea is capable of supporting many tropical fruit trees. There are some people in this region that grow Jackfruit, Durian, Papaya, Bananas, Oranges and other tropical plants. I would assume that many types of tropical fruit could survive in this region because it is consistently hot and humid with no freezes. Turkish farmers have taken advantage of this climate and built countless greenhouses near coastlines in order to cultivate tropical fruits, especially bananas. There are many open-air banana farms as well, with many street vendors selling bananas and other fruits, especially oranges. Street vendors in the rest of Turkey are mainly restricted to selling melons and other temperate crops.

Poppy crops are not a common sight in the Turkish country side but occasionally in some areas you will find large fields filled with poppies that are cultivated for bread seed and spice.

This picture was taken from the road to Antalya. Banana farms such as these are extremely prevalent in a close proximity to the Mediterranean sea.

Along the Mediterranean there is also a very large number of greenhouses that are used to cultivate many crops. My best understanding is that many of these are used to cultivate bananas, but I am curious to know what other plants are cultivated in these greenhouses.

Monday, June 3, 2013

How to: Propagate Starfruit

The Carambola aka Starfruit is a geometrically stunning, tender sweet fruit that comes from the Averrhoa carambola plant. This plant is in the Oxalidaceae plant family from which wood sorrels come from, as well as some rather nasty weedy species that tend to overrun my greenhouse! There are many varieties of Starfruit and the diversity is a novelty in itself, but in general there are two types of Starfruits, the sweet and the sour ones.

Averrhoa carambola has a tree-like growth form and can grow quite tall in tropical regions. In
greenhouses it typically maintains a smaller, bushy growth habit; Perfect for grabbing those low hanging fruits. The flowers appear in dense infloresences that provide much color and often hundreds of flowers. Most of these flowers will not succeed in becoming fruits, likely due to the fact that the plant can only expend so much energy in fruit production. It has several blooming cycles throughout the year, which are probably dependent on conditions like temperature and water/nutrient availability.

Propagation of Starfruit trees is similar to most woody tropical plants, in that they can be effectively propagated by seeds and cloned by cuttings. In the case of growing Starfruit trees, growing by cutting or by air-layering would be ideal. I have no experience in propagating Starfruit trees this way because I don't have access to any live starfruit trees. If you live in a tropical region and have a nearby nursery or friend that owns a starfruit tree then your best option may be to propagate vegetatively through cuttings. For all others propagation by seed may be your only option. Starfruits can be purchased in specialty grocers and a single fruit can yield a dozen seeds. If you are unable to find a Starfruit you could try buying seeds on the internet. It is important to get seeds that are fresh as these will have the highest rate of germination; therefore plant your seeds as soon as you get them. 

Growing Starfruit trees by seed: I have experience growing starfruit seeds from the internet and from fresh fruits. The key is to keep the seeds moist and warm. This was easy for me in my greenhouse as it is constantly moist and warm, I simply sowed the seeds about 1/4 inch in soil. Alternatively you could place the seeds in a moist paper towel in a plastic bag and place them in a warm dark place in your house (On top of the refrigerator). In optimal conditions the seeds may germinate in a week but I find that germination is typically closer to 3-4 weeks.

Growing Starfruit trees is tricky, even in tropical greenhouses. Seedlings often grow very tall with minimal branching making them prone to falling over or severing the stem. This may be caused by too little sunlight (they grow best in full sun) or by early application of fertilizers. You should wait until your starfruit is a few years old before you fertilize it. If you find that your Starfruit tree is getting too tall and is not branching you should cut the top off (The small growing bud at the top of the plant = apical mersitem); by topping the plant you force the plant to grow axillary branches and assume a bushy growth form. Starfruit trees grow best in slightly acidic soil that drains well. Overwatering can be a problem for Starfruit trees and you should not water the soil if it is already very damp.