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Nature & Wildlife

Herbarium in North Cyprus

Most people can confidently name the commoner, showier plants in the countryside, and farmers, shepherds, and foresters know dozens more. But how many of the twenty North Cyprus endemic species, found nowhere else in the world would you recognise? 

To identify a rare, or inconspicuous species, or to distinguish safely between two similar ones, one needs a reliable textbook with descriptions and illustrations and for complete certainty, an authoritatively named specimen to compare with the ones in question.

What is a Herbarium?

A Herbarium is a collection of pressed plant specimens mounted on paper and carefully labelled to show when, where and by whom each was collected, provides information on the plants endemic to an area. 

A large Herbarium was built up over the years in Nicosia during the British colonial times and thereafter, but since 1974 it has been inaccessible, to those who wish to refer it, from North Cyprus. 

To fill this gap and help those who are interested as well as visitors, including the many foreign experts who come to investigate our flora, work was started in 1988 by an English botanist, Dr. Deryck Viney, assisted by personnel and facilities of the Forestry Department of the North Cyprus Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Opening of the Herbarium

November 9, 1989 saw the formal opening of the first North Cyprus Herbarium by Mr. Taskent Atasayan, the then Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. At its inauguration, the Herbarium comprised about 450 species. By the summer of 1990 the number had increased to nearly 800, including most of the North Cyprus endemics, such as the:

bullet St.Hilarion Cabbage...(Brassica hilarionis)
bullet Cyprus Rock Cress....(Arabis cypria)
bullet Cyprus Pink..............(Dianthus cyprius)
bullet Lapta Stonecrop........(Sedum lampusae)
bullet Cyprus Woundwort....(Sideritis cypria) and others.

Over the whole island the number of endemics is over 100.

Serious botanists, of course, know plants not by their English or Turkish names, but by their official pair of Latin names, one for the genus, the second for the particular species. It may be particularly irritating for the beginner that in order to hunt down a specimen in our Herbarium s/he first needs to know the Latin name of the genus it belongs to. But the use of these internationally recognised names is essential. The Crown Daisy may have dozens of popular names in different countries, and indeed more than one name in North Cyprus, but the term Chrysanthemum coronarium immediately identifies it for specialists throughout the world. The day will come when academic institutions abroad will want to consult our specimen sheets to see, for example, whether Cyprus Sage is exactly the same as the Salvia fruticosa that grows in Turkey -a point botanists have argued over. For such purposes the 'dead` languages, Latin and ancient-Greek have a permanent, living value for science.

Inside the Herbarium

The visitors will find three areas for study in the Herbarium, one showing plant specimens, the second the spirit collection, and the third the line drawings.

bullet PLANT SPECIMENS: To find a particular plant in the Herbarium, say the Lentisk, we first look for its genus name, Pistacia in the alphabetical list on the information board. (If we only know the Turkish name, Sakiz Agaci, there is another list of Turkish and the Latin names to help.) Against Pistacia we find a serial number (0260) which leads us straight to the Pistacia genus-folder in one of the cabinets; this contains mounted specimens of the Lentisk as well as other Pistacia species. The technique of pressing plants between sheets of absorbent paper, replaced frequently until the specimens are bone-dry, has hardly changed over the centuries, as we can see in ancient but forever expanding herbaria like the one in London's Kew Gardens, the world centre of botanical study. Ideally, several complete specimens of each kind are mounted, roots and all, showing buds and fruit as well as leaves and flowers. With careful arrangement, e.g. to show the lower as well as the upper sides of foliage, a dried specimen usually gives a good idea of the living plant. Indeed, botanical illustrators sometimes have to work from pressing and by treating a fragment with hot water; it is even possible to examine the original cell structure under a microscope. Whilst looking at the fragile and sometimes irreplaceable specimens in the Herbarium, viewers are asked to hold the sheets horizontal at all times; to use the tables for examining the specimens and to replace the sheets and folders in their correct serial order.
bullet SPIRIT COLLECTION: For some groups of plants, notably the interesting Orchid family, pressing is unsatisfactory: the dried flowers not only lose their complicated shape and beautiful pattern but turn uniformly black as well. At Alevkaya Herbarium, however we have adopted for orchids a technique used at Kew, namely preserving the flowers in a dilute mixture of alcohol, glycerol, and formaldehyde which, though it does not save all the colours, does keep the shape intact. The new `Spirit Collection' at the Herbarium already exhibits most of the orchid species found in North Cyprus.
bullet LINE DRAWINGS: In the same room, visitors will find displayed the line drawings by Dr. Deryck Viney, originally exhibited in 1989 at the Ataturk Cultural Centre in Nicosia, and at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta; they are accompanied by another list from which the visitors can trace the illustrations of the Lentisk of choice. These drawings are designed to be included in a completely illustrated `Flora of North Cyprus', to supplement the classic `Flora of Cyprus' written by the British botanist R. D. Meikle. Dr. Viney had completed approximately 750 line drawings when the Herbarium opened its doors for the first time to the visitors. In the Herbarium, the drawings are arranged to show the plants on a month to month basis as they appear throughout the year. This may mean that gradually flowers and fruit appear on different sheets.

How to get there?

The Herbarium is housed in the Alevkaya Forest Station on the mountain ridge between Esentepe and Degirmenlik. 

It can be approached either by mountain road -or by a lower tarmac road. Via the mountain road -coming from Girne / Kyrenia- drive past the Five-Fingers mountain and at the top of the hill take the left hand turn to Alevkaya.   

This is a five mile drive along on a good unmade road but the views make this route worthwhile. The other route takes the road, further down the hill, signposted to Alevkaya.

Opening Times

The Herbarium is officially open between 08:00 hours - 16:00 hours during the week, including weekends. However, if a visitor arrives outside these hours, the forester on duty, is always willing to "open the doors".

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