Professor Turhan Baytop Turkish plant hunter who collected more than 10,000 specimens
The Daily Telegraph , July 5, 2002, p.27.
Professor Turhan Baytop, who has died aged 82, was well known in Britain to botanists and plant enthusiasts for many discoveries he made during his extensive travels which amounted to more than 170 individual plant-hunting trips over a period of 50 years.
During the course of these "excursions", as he called them, he collected more than 10,000 dried plant specimens which are housed in the Faculty of Pharmacy Herbarium at Istanbul University. As Dean of the faculty, he specialised in the uses of plants in Turkey, particularly those of medicinal value such as Papaver, Digitalis and Colchicum, and published many papers and books on the subject.
He donated duplicates of many specimens to the herbaria at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and at Kew. In the 1960s the botanist Peter Hadland Davis, based in Edinburgh, began the monumental task of compiling the Flora of Turkey, a work which has now been completed in 11 volumes. Volume 8 (1984) of this work was dedicated to Turhan Baytop and his wife Asuman an eminent botanist at the same university who accompanied him on many of the field trips.
A further measure of the esteem in which their exploratory work was held is to be seen in the number of newly-discovered plants (and a species of butterfly) that were named in his, or their joint, honour: Allium baytopiorum; Astragalus baytopianus; Colchicum baytopiorum; Crocus baytopiorum; Galium baytopiorum; Nepeta baytopii; Stachys baytopiorum are some of them.
Other plant species were described and named by eminent botanists, based on specimens first collected by either or both of the Baytops. In 2001 Turhan Baytop wrote an autobiographical account of his travels in Anatolia, Anadolu Dağlarında 50 Yıl (50 Years in the Anatolian Mountains) which included a general history of plant collecting in Anatolia and some historically interesting facts and photographs.
Turhan Baytop was born on June 20, 1920 at Üsküdar, İstanbul. His father was a military officer and a keen amateur botanist, and this no doubt saw the seeds of his son's interest in natural history. The first plant specimen gathered by the young Baytop was collected while accompanying his father on an army excercise near Erzurum in 1943. At this time he was studying at the University College of Pharmacy in Istanbul; he later served as a pharmacist in the medical corps during his military service.
In 1948 Baytop returned to the college and gained his doctorate with a chemical investigation of Ephedra, the group of plants that contain important drugs such as ephedrine. This was followed by a similar study of a Turkish species of liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra.
Apart from one year (1951-52) spent carrying out research at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Paris, Baytop remained at Istanbul University for the rest of his career, becoming a professor in 1963. He served five terms as Dean of the Faculty, and retired in 1987.
His primary interest in the plants around him was in their direct medicinal value in their original state, not a collection of chemicals which could be synthesised. His studies were always accompanied by diligent field work, recording the way in which plants were used by local people, and he initiated a series of annual conferences around the country to further encourage such studies.
He published 16 books, ranging in subject from the poisonous plants of Turkey (1963 and 1989) to introductory and tutorial works on pharmacognosy (1970 and 1972), the history of pharmacy in Turkey (1985), an extensive dictionary of plant names in Turkey (1994 and 1997), and two books about the old roses of Istanbul. More than 100 individual papers concerning Turkish plants were published in various national and international journals.
He received many awards including in 1986, a silver medal from OPTIMA (an organisation promoting studies into the flora of Mediterranean area); a gold medal from TÜBITAK (a Turkish institution supporting scientific research) in 1988; and an ECO (Economic Cooperation Organisation, Teheran) gold medal in 1992.
Baytop also welcomed botanical visitors to his country, giving generous assistance to any serious researchers. Some he accompanied on field forays -it was the petaloid monocots (loosely known as "bulbs") belonging to the Lily, Iris and Amaryllis families that interested him the most, and many of these joint excursions were timed in spring and autumn to coincide with their flowering. This interest in bulbous plants and his willingness to engage in collaborative projects led to the production of one of his books in English, The Bulbous Plants of Turkey (1984), which contained descriptions of all the bulbs the known and a history of plant exploration in Turkey.
He was also much intrigued by the history of the development of the tulips in Turkey, especially the narrow-petalled versions of this familiar plant which were raised by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries. This interest gave rise to another book, Istanbul Lalesi, which was published in Turkish in 1992 and translated into Japanese and English in 1996. This included 50 exquisite colour portraits reproduced from the Book of Tulips, published in Istanbul in 1725. Anna Pavord, author of the recent best-selling book The Tulip (1999), acknowledged Baytop's help in providing information about tulip sites worth visiting in eastern Turkey.
After years of training young pharmacists it was perhaps not surprising that Baytop seemed to know someone in every towm and village throughout Turkey, wherever there was a chemist's shop, so the travelling with him could also resemble a social event, often both enjoyable and rewarding. He conversed with his foreign companions in a mixture of several languages, but always loved the English capacity for reserve and understatement. Turhan Baytop's wife, Professor Asuman Baytop and their daughter Professor Feza (Baytop) Günergun survive him. He died on June 25.