Turkey is a country significant for its rich plant genetic resources/plant diversity. Two of Vavilov's centers of origin (i.e., the Near Eastern and Mediterranean Centers) extend into Turkey. This, of course, indicates that Turkey is a center of origin and/or center of diversity of several crop plants and many plant species. Turkey is endowed with a rich diversity of families, genera and species of plants (163 families, 1225 genera, 9000 species). 3000 plant taxa, out of 9000 species, are endemic to the area.

This rich biodiversity (primitive landraces, wild crop relatives and other wild plant species) of Turkey continues to provide new sources for important traits to improve agricultural production and introduce new sources of efficiency worldwide. The potential and the reasons for this richness can be described by these charac-teristics:1

1. Meeting place of three phytogeo-graphical regions;

2. Center of origin and center of diversity of many crop/plant species;

3. Domestication center for many crops;

4. High species endemism;

5. Bridge between Europe and Asia, apparently having served as a migration route for the penetration of other elements.

Factors such as environmental destruction, overexploitation, replacement of traditional cultivars, and modernization of agriculture result in the erosion of genetic diversity. Some regions of Turkey are now undergoing some degree of change in terms of trade, exports, urbanization and market driven farming. Despite the positive aspect of such changes, these have greatly contributed to the decrease, even loss, of agrobiodiversity.2

There is no disagreement among plant scientists about including Anatolia in the two centers of diversity and center of origin, the Near Eastern Center and the Mediterranean Center, which overlap in Turkey. Paleoethno-botanical findings have shed light on the origins and development of plant domestication and confirmed the center of origin, based on plant exploration studies. Early sites for finds of domesticated plants are Catalhoyuk, Can Hasan, Aceramic Hacilar and Late Neolithic Hacilar, Mersin and Cayonu dating to about 7000-5000 BC.3-6 The early Neolithic findings in Anatolia are shown in Table 13.1.

Turkey is one of the centers of origin of some cultivated plants like Linum, Allium spp., Hordeum, Secale, Triticum, Avena, Cicer, Lens, Pisum, Vitis, Amygdalus, Prunus, Beta etc. The potential of plant diversity in Turkey has been determined and recognized by well known plant scientists.7-10 Turkey is also described as a microcenter for Amygdalus spp., Cucumis melo, C. sativus, Cucurbita moshata, C. pepo, Lens culinaris, Lupinusspp., Malus spp., Medicago sativa, other annual

Table I3.1. Early Neolithic findings in Turkey2,6

Location and Period

Plant finds


Wild einkorn, einkorn, naked (free threshing) wheat,

7200-6500 BCE

wild barley, emmer, wild emmer, pea, lentil, vetch, flax


Wild einkorn, emmer, naked barley, lentil

6750 BCE

Can Hasan 6500 BCE

Wild einkorn, einkorn, emmer, naked wheat, two rowed

6500 BCE

barley, lentil, vetch


Einkorn, emmer, naked wheat, naked barley, pea, vetch

6000-5000 BCE

Erbaba Einkorn, emmer, naked wheat, two rowed barley, naked

6000-5000 BCE barley, pea, lentil, vetch

Medicago spp., Onobrychis viciifolia, Phaseolus vulgaris, Pistachio spp., Prunus spp., Pyrus spp., Trifolium spp., Vicia faba, Vitis vinifera and Zea mays.11

Turkey's wealth in plants is apparent in the fact that 3000 out of the 9000 plant species are endemic to the area.12,13 Endemics are scattered throughout the country, but few are found in Trace. The largest number of endemics occurs in the Irano-Turanian Region and the Mediterranean region.13 The endemics show definite areas of concentration throughout the country, predominating in the mountainous parts of south and southeast Anatolia.

Wild relatives and wild ancestors of cereals include those of wheat (wild einkorn, Triticum boeoticum; wild emmer, T. dicoccoides; goat grass, Aegilops spp.), barley (Hordeum spont-aneum, H. bulbosum, H. marinum and H. murinum), oats (Avena spp.) and rye (Secale spp.).14 Five wild species of lentil (Lens orientalis, L. nigricans, L. ervoides, L. montbretii, L. odemensis), the wild and weedy forms of Pisum (primary progenitor of the pea, P. humile; P elatius ) and wild progenitors of Cicer (C.pinnatifidum, C. echinospermum, C. bijugum, C. reticulatum) occur in Turkey.15

An extremely rich variety of medicinal, aromatic and ornamental plant species are found in the flora of Turkey.16 Within the ornamental plants great numbers of bulbous or tuberous plants, woody and herbaceous perennials, biennials and annuals are found. Most of the ornamental species grow in wild habitats among deciduous shrubs and under deciduous trees or scattered among bushes and/or rocks. The diversity of ornamental plant species is related to the diverse topography and climate of Turkey. Medicinal and aromatic plants in Turkey present almost the same situation. The rate of endemics is also high within those plant groups.

A number of vegetables have their origin in Anatolia. The wild relative of Brassica, B. cretica, is found in south Anatolia (in the south Aegean and Mediterranean belt). Wild Raphanus raphanistrum also has a distribution in the west and south coastal parts. Wild celery, Apium graveolens; the wild beet B. maritima and other Beta spp.; wild carrots, Daucus spp.; wild rockets, Eruca spp.; wild lettuce, Lactuca spp.; and wild mustard, Sinapis spp., are some of the wild vegetables commonly used as vegetable or salad plants. Many other wild plant species are used as salad and vegetable plants, but most of those species are not utilized for development and/ or are neglected.2

Indigenous fruit trees are also found in Turkey. These woody plants are valuable genetic resources as food crops. Because of their resistance to insects and disease, and their natural adaptability to an array of sites, such species as chestnut (Castanea sativa), olive (Olea europea) and walnut (Juglans regia) are valuable fruit genetic resources. Wild relatives of apple (Malus spp.) pear (Pyrus spp.) and plum (Prunus spp.) are also found in Turkey.17 The wild pistachios P. terebinthus and P. lentiscus; wild hazel nuts, Corylus spp.; wild plums Prunus spinosa and P.divericata; wild cornel cherry, Cornus sanguinea; wild pears Pyrus elaegrifolia and other Pyrus species; and wild almonds, Amygdalus spp., are some of the wild relatives of fruit trees found in Turkey. Sweet and sour cherries are also indigenous; various wild types are found, especially in North Turkey. Most of these wild relatives of fruit trees are utilized as rootstock. There are also wild relatives of other fruits like wild strawberry, Fragaria spp., and wild blackberries, Rubus spp.2

Wild relatives of forage grasses and legumes commonly occur in Turkey. The natural pastures and meadows show high genetic diversity. This has led to ecological populations of forage which are superior to those currently used and can be released as commercial cultivars with a minimum of further selection and breeding. But, most of them are threatened with genetic erosion, mainly due to overgrazing.

Landraces are found in the areas where crop species first arose through domestication. Turkey also lies within a broad region of of crop domestication. Therefore, there are highly variable domesticated crops, as well as landraces with unique characteristics, in Turkey. The traditional agricultural systems used in the backyard gardens to grow vegetables, especially in remote areas of Turkey, have been important in bringing together some species that have subsequently hybridized. Some industrial crops like flax have a history of ancient cultivation in Turkey. Turkey is the junction between primary and secondary centers of diversity of some crops, like sesame; different forms of those crops are found.18 Although Turkey is not a center of origin of tobacco, sunflower and corn, these crops also have diverse landraces which are adapted to different ecological conditions. Various local types of fruits are found in Turkey.17 Prunus species are represented by different fruit types such as almond, plum, cherries, apricot etc. Almond types may differ widely in vigor, yield, nut and kernel quality, and flowering time. Various plum types are found having very ancient cultivation and wide distribution. Different types of sweet cherry have also grown for centuries throughout Turkey. Spontaneous seedlings are occasionally allowed to develop into bearing trees, especially those of apricot, almond and cherry plum (P. ceracifera), which increases the rate of existing diversity.

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