The Judas tree, the harbinger of spring, belongs to İstanbul as to no other city in the world. Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroğlu declared the year 2012 the year of the Judas tree, which he said is a native species of İstanbul flora. Eroğlu attended a ceremony on March 22 to celebrate the beautiful flowers of the Judas tree in İstanbul’s Üsküdar district, where 5,000 Judas tree saplings were distributed to Üsküdar residents. Eroğlu said the ministry will distribute 100,000 Judas tree saplings this year in İstanbul and decorate both sides of the Bosporus with beautiful blossoms.
Another ceremony was held on March 26 in the Eyüp district, where 10,000 Judas tree saplings were distributed free to residents. Eroğlu said the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs planted almost 1.5 million trees in 2011, adding that it will continue to distribute Judas tree saplings in other İstanbul districts as well.
Judas trees are starting to flower right now all along the Bosporus and will be in full bloom towards the end of April. Time is short for enjoying the Judas tree as the tree’s beautiful blossoms last for only 15 to 20 days. The best place to see them is from a ferry along the Bosporus where the hills are clothed in a splendid cloak of pinkish-purple. Süreyya Altunışık, deputy technical manager of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Park and Gardens Directorate, said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that the municipality will plant thousands of Judas trees this year in İstanbul, as it does every year. “The Judas tree has become emblematic of İstanbul,” Altunışık said, adding that the tree’s favorite habitats are the low hills facing the sea and the sun.
The quintessential color of the Judas tree flowers is a marbled and streaked tone somewhere between pink, purple and lilac. It is a color that was the mark of leaders both in the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, as well as in the Ottoman Empire.
Judas tree purple, which was the color of the Byzantine royal family, was regarded as the symbol of power and affluence. It was also forbidden for anyone except emperors to wear a Judas tree-colored cloak in Byzantine times. İstanbul is also said to have been founded by the Byzantines when the flowers of Judas trees were blooming. According to one story, the Judas tree used to be white, but after Judas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, betrayed him and hanged himself from a tree, ashamed of what he had done, the tree’s flowers turned pink and then red to signify the shame. Hence, the tree is called the Judas tree. The Judas tree had a special place in Ottoman culture as well. Emir Sultan, the son-in-law of Ottoman Sultan Yıldırım Bayezıd, would travel to Bursa with his retinue every year to see the Judas trees in bloom, and festivals, known as Judas tree days or gatherings, were held every year until the 19th century, in honor of his arrival.
The flowers of the tree are also known to have been used by the Ottomans to add color and flavor to salads.
The Judas tree has been the focus of many Ottoman and Turkish poets who admired the beauty of this elegant tree. In his book “Beş Şehir” (Five Cities), renowned Turkish poet and author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar says if there is a flower worthy of a special day in its name, it is the Judas tree that comes in second only to roses. Edip Cansever, another Turkish poet, likens İstanbul to a majestic “empire of Judas trees,” while Necip Fazıl Kısakürek calls the Judas tree “the true color of the country.”
İstanbul lovers can organize boat trips or walking tours to view these elegant trees in their incomparable splendor along the Bosporus. Judas trees are most abundant along the Anatolian side of the Bosporus between Kandilli and Beykoz. Üsküdar’s Fethi Paşa Korusu (grove), Kanlıca’s Mihrabat Korusu, the Çubuklu Hills above Beykoz, Vaniköy, Kandilli and Fenerbahçe are ideal places to enjoy the view of Judas trees on the Anatolian side of İstanbul.