Graham’s observations from our 2011 tour to see the orchids of Anatolia

Native orchids of Anatolia (Turkey). Click a thumbnail to see a larger image. Reload page for a different selection.

The highlight of our visit to Turkey in the spring of 2011 was a tour through southwestern Anatolia in search of native orchids. This is one of the botanical tours offered by Yasemin Konuralp of Runner Tourism & Travel. Mary and I were the only persons who signed up for the tour, so we enjoyed a week with Yasemin in her personal vehicle rather than with a group of people in a minivan. Our tour began at the Izmir airport, from where we travelled south and southeast around the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts to Antalya over seven days. Izmir to Antalya via the main coastal highway is approximately 690 km (425 miles), but we travelled on many minor roads as well as seeing a reasonable amount of the highway. Click on the thumbnail at the right to see a map showing many of the locations we visited.

Our route frequently took us along roads that are not even well-indicated on detailed Turkish maps. We visited and walked around villages that in themselves were cultural experiences, where tour buses are unknown. The native orchids of Turkey are under threat because they are commonly dug up for their tubers, which are used as a thickener in making Turkish ice-cream and in other applications, so it was a privilege to find them in their natural habitat in a variety of rural locations.

At the beginning of the tour, Yasemin predicted we may find over 30 orchid species during the seven days, and indeed we found approximately 35. Click the thumbnail at the right to see a collage of all 35 species. I must add that Yasemin is a superb tour guide, with a warm, friendly nature, a pleasure to travel with. She is highly knowledgable about the wildflowers of Anatolia, and the native orchids in particular. She is active in efforts to have the more endangered orchid species protected, for example, in places where they are threatened by urban or industrial development. In 2013 Yasemin published her first field guide — Wildflowers of Turkey: Volume I - Bulbous Plants. It contains a substantial section about orchids, covering more than 100 species, which is probably all that you need for your own orchid explorations in Turkey.

Apart from Yasemin's book, few books are published about the orchids of Turkey; but there is a good one written in German: Kreutz C.A.J., Die Orchideen der Türkei, 1998, ISBN 90-9011307-X. Yasemin brought along her copy on our tour. It's a large book with many photographs and copious text, overall an excellent reference. I am most grateful for the assistance given by Yasemin in identifying the orchids. Without her help, my lack of familiarity with that part of the world, plus the dearth of literature, would have made identification difficult in many instances.

Below are photographs of orchids that we saw on our tour. This gallery includes whichever orchid species occurred at each major location we visited, even though this means the gallery contains multiple instances for many of the species. Where possible, separate photos of the whole plant and the flower are included. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images.

This photo essay concentrates on the orchids, which were the purpose of the tour. However, we also saw other outstanding features of the area, worthwhile in their own right, such as neolithic paintings near Karahayıt, the roosting storks at Avşar, and the remote Green Lake, high in the mountains where we saw, for example, crocus flowers braving the freezing temperatures to greet the coming spring.

Top of page

Day 1

Near Ephesus

Ephesus is one of the best-known ancient city ruins in Turkey, and we visited it a few days prior to the start of our orchid tour. Thus it was fitting that our first stop on the orchid tour was near Ephesus.

The author with
Yasemin Konuralp
Ophrys mammosa Ophrys umbilicata ssp. umbilicata
Olive grove above Kuşadası

The maps that I have, coupled with my GPS track, indicate this location is Soğucak, in the hills immediately above the coastal town of Kuşadası, which in turn is not far from Ephesus. We were travelling along a typical through road in a built-up area when Yasemin suddenly turned down a gravel road leading directly into an undeveloped rural area. Here we visited our first olive grove, and found some more orchids.

Olive grove, Kuşadası in the background Ophrys lutea ssp. galilaea Ophrys umbilicata ssp. umbilicata
Orchis papillionaceae ssp. heroica
(butterfly orchid)
Near Pınarcık

By mid afternoon we reached our overnight destination, the village of Kapıkırı, on the eastern side of Lake Bafa. After checking in to the hotel, our hotel host Mithat accompanied us to a rural area near Pınarcık, a township on the southeastern side of the lake. There we walked for an hour or more through a succession of olive groves, which were adorned in spring wildflowers, including a rich population of orchids.

Mithat, Yasemin,
and Mary
Ophrys tenthredinifera (sawfly orchid) Ophrys speculum (mirror of Venus)
Ophrys holoserica Ophrys blitopertha
(synonym of Ophrys fusca ssp. blitopertha)
Ophrys leucadica
Ophrys iricolor Ophrys lutea ssp. Ophrys lutea ssp. galilaea Ophrys attaviria
Ophrys sp.      

Top of page

Day 2

Near Pınarcık (second visit)

We spent most of the second day seeing neolithic paintings in a remote location (via a rugged rural road, with outstanding and prolific wildflowers), and then the township of Avşar, where storks nest on the tops of buildings. (Those places deserve their own photo galleries, but they deviate from the orchid topic of this page.) On the way back to our second evening at Kapıkırı, we once again visited the olive groves near Pınarcık, not exactly the same spot, but nearby. This was equally as rewarding as the previous afternoon, — an ocean of many wildflowers, orchids being just part of the mix.

Olive grove
near Pınarcık
Ophrys attaviria Ophrys bombyliflora
(Bumblebee orchid)
Serapias sp. Orchis anatolica (Anatolian orchid) Ophrys mammosa Ophrys speculum

Top of page

Day 3

Near Torba

Out on the peninsula, on a back road near Torba, approximately north of the larger town of Bodrum, we stopped at a very wet field loaded with orchids. It was raining, and this shows in the photographs. It's also where my camera stopped working. I was grateful to be able to use Mary's DSLR for the remainder of the journey; she had brought two cameras, and graciously used only the smaller one from that point on.

Regarding the two images of Ophrys lutea ssp. lutea: Based on Kreutz's book, Yasemin considered that these could be Ophrys phryganae, which the book shows as having an isolated population in this area. According to the Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Ophrys phryganae is a synonym of Ophrys lutea ssp. lutea, hence my use of the name in the image caption. However, the two images are significantly different from one another. The coloring pattern suggests that the one on the left may be O. lutea ssp. lutea, but that the one on the right may be O. lutea ssp. galilaea.

The field near Torba Serapias sp. 1 Serapias sp. 2
Orchis laxiflora Ophrys lesbis
Neotinea maculata Ophrys lutea ssp. lutea Ophrys umbilicata ssp. umbilicata


Along the highway east of Milas

Along the D-330 highway east of Mılas we stopped briefly to explore a forested gully heading off to one side of the road. There we found one orchid species.

Looking down on road Orchis anatolica  



Top of page

Day 4

On a hilltop near Dalaman

Yasemin had a report from some previous party about orchids on a hill at 600 m elevation near Dalaman. We went in search of that location although the description was unclear. There is no 600 m hill in that area; however, we did find a road that partly fitted the description, going up over a hill near the village of Şerefler. There we stopped to explore the hillside. This is densely forested countryside, and we found ourselves bashing through the bushes. We did find some orchids.

Forest on the hillside Neotinea maculata Ophrys blitopertha
Lunch stop east of Göcek

From the D-400 highway, just east of the town of Göcek, a minor gravel road leads north into the hills. On that road we would make a circuit and re-emerge onto the D-400 back in the Dalaman area. But first, very shortly after starting on this adventure, we pulled off the road for a picnic lunch. After eating, we explored the adjacent olive grove and hillside.

Olive grove and hills Ophrys attaviria Ophrys blitopertha
Along the road

We stopped along the road north of Görcek to explore a gully. It was home to a multitude of Orchis anatolica..

Multiple orchids Orchis anatolica (Anatolian orchid)  
Near Çörtmek

I deduce from the map that this location is the village of Çörtmek. We stopped along the road near the village and found a mass of orchids. The variety of species was small, but the quantity of individuals prolific, spread everywhere, especially Ophrys heterochila. The density of this orchid population was larger than at most other places we visited. We also saw some interesting non-orchid flowers.

Çörtmek village Ophrys heterochila Fritillaria acmopetala
ssp. acmopetala
Orchis italica      

Top of page

Day 5

Near Dalaman

We stopped at an area not far from the main road through Dalaman, with residential areas all around. It was a warm morning, the ground seemed dry, and it looked as if the nicer part of spring had passed. However, we did find a few orchids.

Ophrys mammosa Serapias sp. 1 Serapias sp. 2  
A hillside location

We drove around the same back-road loop through the hills north of Göcek that we travelled on the previous day, but in the opposite direction, with the aim of visiting some new orchid places. Notable was this hillside location, but it was disappointing because in the past year many of the tall conifers in the area have been cut down, — a good source of income for the nearby village, but not so good for the orchids.. The resulting extra sunshine meant the ground was drier and the peak of spring had clearly come and gone. The orchids we found were either finished, or partly-finished, or small. I do not know the name of the village. Trees were being harvested nearby at the time of our visit.

Tree harvesting Ophrys lutea ssp. galilaea Ophrys blitopertha Ophrys heterochila
North of Esen

Proceeding south on the D-400 highway, we stopped north of the town of Esen. Here we found some excellent orchids, but no new species.

Ophrys iricolor Ophrys holoserica Orchis italica
Near Gelemiş

Turning south off the D-400, we headed down the road towards Gelemiş, then took a very rural track to a hilltop for a picnic lunch. We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring firstly the hilltop area, and secondly the extensive olive groves on the slope of the hill. The olive groves were especially rich in orchids.

The hilltop at Gelemiş Ophrys labiosa Neotinea maculata
Serapias bergonii Ophrys lutea ssp. galilaea Limodorum arbotivum
Ophrys sitiaca Olive trees and
Yasemin in SUV

Top of page

Day 6

The escarpment above Kaş

The city of Kaş is situated on the Mediterranean, at the base of a steep escarpment extending up to a mountain and plateau area exceeding 1,000 m elevation. On the D-400 highway a short distance northeast of Kaş, we reached the top of the escarpment and turned inland, away from the coast. Not long afterwards, we pulled off the road to explore a known orchid area.

We stopped at several locations along this mountainous road, but saw few orchids. The long drive on to Antalya included the steep side-road followed by a walk to Green Lake (invigorating in the snow.) At 1,825 m (6,000 ft) elevation, this is bulb country, but spring had hardly started and we saw just a few flowers such as the Crocus included here.

Where we parked Ophrys lycia Orchis sezikiana Crocus sp.

Top of page

Day 7

Embankment in industrial area

On the last day of the tour, we travelled along the coast south of Antalya. The first stop, on the outskirts of Antalya, was to explore a narrow embankment between a creek and the fence of an industrial site. We saw Ophrys species that had finished blooming. We also saw this enormous Orchis punctata.

The embankment Orchis punctata
Back roads in the Phaselis area

Heading south, we turned off the D-400 highway in a number of places where there was a road going down towards the nearby coast, such as near Phaselis. These roads passed through well-forested country, and we stopped several times to explore.

Turnoff to Phaselis Ophrys lyciensis Orchis syriaca
A place with nearby beehives

The beehives beside the road remind me that we ate a lot of honey in Turkey. It was always dark and rich. A real treat is mixing a spoonful into a bowl of plain yogurt.

We saw Barlia robertiana several times previously, but always beyond its bloom. Thus it was pleasing finally to see it still in bloom, albeit relatively advanced.

Beehives Barlia robertiana  
Ophrys lyciensis Orchis anatolica (Anatolian orchid)  
High on a crest

In places the coastline is mountainous. We stopped to explore where the road crosses a high ridge with a view towards the distant Mediterranean. The hill slope was open scrub. On the crest was Calabrian pine forest (Pinus brutia). Along the Adriatic coast earlier in the tour, everything was covered with olive trees including the seemingly inaccessible mountain areas; but here on the Mediterranean coast, much more of the countryside is covered with Calabrian pine, which itself was largely planted as a plantation tree.

On the crest Orchis syriaca Serapias levantina
Ophrys cinerophila Pinus brutia (Calabrian Pine)  
At Olympos

Olympos is a locality near the coast several kilometers off the highway. It's as far as we travelled from Antalya on this final day.

Wildflowers Orchis syriaca, including albino form Ophrys lyciensis
Probably Ophrys bremifera Serapias politisii Yasemin & Serapias
The final stop

Our final stop of the tour was on a minor gravel road between the highway and the beach. The ground looked dry and hard. We found one new orchid although it was was past its prime.

Ophrys lucis Coastal mountains on the way back to town    

Top of page

After the tour

At the conclusion of the orchid tour, Mary and I spent a couple of days in Antalya, primarily visiting several of the archeological sites in the area. At two of them, Aspendos and Termessos, we found orchids, just a single species at each location.

Theater at Aspendos Serapias sp. Theater at Termessos Orchis anatolica (Anatolian orchid)

Top of page

Return to Travel and Current Events page