Just a quick look at what’s looking good in the garden after today’s rain!
We are lucky that one of Ben’s relatives has an apartment at a Kibbutz next to the dead sea. The kibbutz is called En-Gedi and happens to be the worlds only populated botanic garden. What an amazing place it is too. With water from the nearby spring the Kibbutz has flourished into the perfect oasis in the desert, it concentrates on growing plants that need little water and so has collections from Africa, Australia, Desert areas of North and South America and most importantly the spiny dry forests of Madagascar.
The Kibbutz however was not what we had traveled all the way into the desert to see. It was the unique native flora that makes such a barren place its home and makes the most of the little rain it receives each year.
and we found it..
First stop En Gedi nature reserve and spring.
Initially seeming barren and devoid of life the desert is a special place quite the opposite of the initial image. It is full of life and far from barren, you just need to open your eyes a little wider to see it.
to be continued………
“Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of choice fruits; for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil” (II Samuel 1:21)
Bordering on the West Bank, the Gilboa mountains form a ridge that runs from the South East to the North West. They are home to two nature reserves set up in 1970 and 2005 to protect the endangered wildflowers of Israel and in particular Irus Ha-Gilboa, a purple Oncocyclus iris (Iris haynei).
The nature reserves themselves are very popular with locals who come to picnic and walk but are beset by a problem. Due to their protected status the traditional grazing of the meadows had been removed and as such the smaller plants such as the Iris were being out competed by larger plants. Recently the Israeli nature and parks authority started grazing the land again but it will be some time until balance is restored.
On a previous visit to the nature reserves we had missed the iris in flower by just a week or so. We headed back on this trip to see if we were in luck.
So after a good evenings plant hunting we had achieved our goal we headed back to the kibbutz with hope for the rest of our trip and planned our next days journey south into the Negev desert.
To be continued……
Back in February I watched with baited breath as the small blue green shoots of an Iris pushed their way through the gravel topping on their pot. The Iris in question wasn’t any old Iris, it was my only plant of a species called Iris mariae.
Iris mariae is one of the Oncocyclus group of Iris. Of the Iridaceae, Oncocyclus have possibly the most showy flowers in relation to the size of plant. They mostly come from southern Europe and the Middle East and due to overharvesting, for the cut flower industry/western horticulture, many have become critically endangered. This much is true of my Iris mariae. It is found only in the westernmost part of the Negev desert and a small area of north-eastern Sinai and is becoming increasingly rare. Inbreeding, poor ‘conservation’ land management, political unrest and the illegal trade for horticulture threaten it greatly ( the one I have comes from long time cultivated plants in the UK).
It worried me greatly that I was going to be leaving such a plant here in Britain whilst I went swanning off to Israel, but the purpose of my visit was greater than the needs of one plant. I was heading to Israel to visit some of my Iris’s wild relatives and to see what I could do, from here in the UK, to help them.
My partner Ben is an Israeli you see, and over the years I have come to love this little problematic country. About the same size as Wales, but long and narrow, Israel features a massive range of climate zones. From Alpine conditions (Mt Hermon has some permanent snow patches) through to extreme desert, and situated at the point where Africa meets Asia and Europe, Israel supports huge biodiversity. It has over 2800 species of plants which, when compared with Wales’ 400+ species, is a vast number for such a small country.
Many of its species of plants are annual or bulbous/tuberous geophytes and their flowering and subsequent setting of seed is entirely dependent on the countries winter rain. We were heading there in early March in the hope of seeing the spring flowers and in particular the Iris in flower.
First stop though was the Kibbutz which Ben is from and we arrived there to stories of ‘there’s been no rain this year’ and ‘you won’t see many flowers’. Certainly the reduced number of flowers was evident in the north. Onwards we went on our botanical exploration of Israel. We wanted to see as many of the habitats as possible, look at soil structures, which plants were found together and in particular the habitats that the Iris are found in.
I think it’s easier if I let the flowers themselves tell the rest of this story……
The first trip was to Ofir’s lookout, a strategic vantage point used as a gun emplacement in times of war that looks out over the Jordan valley.
We then moved on to visit a wonderfull waterfall and slightly different environment at a place called Wadi Gilabon
The sun set as we were walking out from the wadi and tired we looked forward to the next days trip to the Gilboa iris nature reserve on Mount Barkan in the hope of seeing some of those endangered Oncocyclus. To be continued……..