Turkey black rose producers chase sweet smell of success

Turkey black rose producers chase sweet smell of success

ŞANLIURFA - Agence France-Presse
Turkey black rose producers chase sweet smell of success

To the naked eye, the delicate velvet roses in southeastern Turkey appear black and overwhelm the senses with their irresistible sweet smell.

The rosebuds are just as dark, and when fully developed, the flower takes on the colour of an intensely rich red wine.

These black roses, known as “Kara gül” in Turkish and thornier than others, can only grow in the province of Şanlıurfa’s Halfeti district with soil that has distinctive features including a special PH level. The unique colour cannot be preserved elsewhere, experts say.

Now Halfeti’s residents want to transform the rose into a brand since Turkey’s rose sector is a blooming business.

The industry is currently dominated by the western province of Isparta, known as Turkey’s “rose garden.”

Today, Turkey and Bulgaria make up around 80 percent of the world’s rose oil production. But Halfeti resident Devrim

Tutuş, 28, has already seen business flourish. After coming up with a business plan to promote the black roses, he now supplies Istanbul with petals for colognes, Turkish delight and ice cream. Demand is already outgrowing supply.

That doesn’t stop Tutuş who already has his next plan: “Kara gül” wine.

“There’s a huge market out there in Istanbul. It’s all about Isparta roses. Why not the same here?” he said.

The black rose’s fortunes were not always so sweet.It once aroused only indifference among residents, said a local official in charge of preserving the roses. “They were everywhere in the gardens but nobody paid attention,” said his friend who only gave his name as Bülent.

“Locals had no idea the roses were unique. We transported some to higher ground and started production in greenhouses,” said the official, who did not wish to be named. In upper Halfeti, one greenhouse operated by the town’s agriculture department is home to 1,000 roses.

But the town’s residents rallied to rescue the rose after a dam on the Euphrates River flooded the region in the early 2000s, threatening to bury the flower like dozens of archaeological sites from ancient Mesopotamia.

The construction of the Birecik dam in 2000 was part of a series of controversial development projects in southeast Turkey.

Today, 20 variants of black roses have been identified worldwide, including sixteen in Turkey, said botanist Ali İkinci.

“Kara gül is not an endemic species in Halfeti,” İkinci, a professor at Harran University, said. “But the particular ecology, climate and soil cause it to bloom darker there. If you plant that rose somewhere else, it won’t be as dark or black.”

The professor insisted Halfeti’s rose was “unique.” The color of the rose darkens as one moves from Şanlıurfa towards Syria, İkinci said.

The Halfeti official explained the rose blossoms on higher ground because the soil close to the dam is more acidic because of the Euphrates’ waters.

İkinci believes the origins of “kara gül” could be the “Louis XIV” black rose, grown in France in 1859 and named after the French king.

But for Frederic Achille, deputy director of the Botanical Gardens of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, it’s much ado about nothing.

“’Louis XIV’ could really be transformed by the waters of the Euphrates... and bogus communication.”

Halfeti is also home to the peculiar green rose that has the appearance of a weed, but it is real and not just photoshopped by avid Instagram users.

“It remains mysterious. Some locals had it in their gardens. But because it’s odourless, it failed to attract attention,” İkinci said.

Achille was blunter about why: “It’s quite ugly.”

The green flower was “just a curiosity in rose gardens” after it was introduced in Europe in 1856 by British nurseries, he added.

But that won’t stop Halfeti taking advantage of its real, hidden treasures. By the shores of the dam, a few amateur gardeners promote the black rose to tourists alongside boat tours to see the caves, now underwater.