Here There Be Dragons

My mother kept a dragon – she really did. It lived in a large pot behind the shed in the garden of the very new, post-war council house that we occupied back when I was a very young and impressionable child. She didn’t call it a dragon in those days, she called it a ‘Snake Plant’ and she told me that evil snakes were born from plants just like this one and I believed her. The stem was mottled like a snake and the leaves were shaped like a snake-headed Gorgon with a viper like quality (or so it seemed to me). Although the plant would sprout up each year there was never a flower and mother said that it only flowered every 7 years but when it did there would be snakes all over the place.

Then, one year the plant sprouted and seemed much thicker and stronger that ever before and from the top there grew a great green spike (a biologist will tell you that this is normal plant behaviour – I was not a biologist, I was 6 years old), mother said the flower was coming and so were the snakes! We waited.

When the flower opened it was amazing – and I really do mean amazing! A huge, purple, ‘thing’, of great beauty with a strange black spear sticking out of it. I remember spying on it from the relative safety of the corner of the house – I knew what was inside. Slowly, I summoned the courage to approach and look more closely and as I did so all of my worst fears were confirmed . . . here was a monstrous creature that devoured flesh. I could smell it – the stench of rotting meat was nauseating and flies massed and buzzed around the monstrous creation of evil. My dear mother soon added her pound of suppurating flesh to the mix when she informed me that she had seen the snakes dragging screaming babes down into the plant. Jeez, this thing scared the sh^%e out of me!

Anyway, time passed and we and life moved on and I didn’t give any more thought to ‘Snake Plants’ and those ‘missing’ babes – until I came to live in Okçular village and J and I went for a walk that first Spring. ‘Tanrım!’ as they say in Turkish – it all came back; my mother, the plant, my mother, the snakes, my mother, the missing babes, my mother, death, my mother, the stinking flesh, my mother . . my mother . .

Which brings me to a ‘poem’ by the Poet Laureate Philip Larkin:

They fu%$ you up, your mum and dad,

They don’t mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had,

And then some extras, just for you!

(this, is apparently, the most popular poem in the US which could be a pointer for all the damage the US government does around the world)

Anyway, all of that aside, let me introduce you to one of the most spectacular plants you will ever encounter in our neck of the woods. It is hugely beautiful, very common around our village (and, if you live in SW Turkey, common around your area, too) and deserving of your admiration from a safe distance. Why so? Because it has a ‘scent’ like one of the Orcs from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that has a peptic ulcer and a severe case of halitosis!! It is appalling – I kid you not! Meet Dracunculus vulgaris the Dragon Arum – admired from afar but never truly loved.

That said, it has naturalised itself in our garden and J and I are delighted. We nurture them (for now there are five) and enjoy their company and, because we are so polite, we never comment on their bad breath.

Okçular is a truly amazing place with beautiful flowers like the Dragon Arum; it is also home to one of the world’s rarest plants Alkanna muglae but more of that in another post. You can learn more about the flora, fauna and history of our village by visiting there are also books available that support the Okçular Book Project, find out more from the website.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Village