Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 10

Its not everyday that you get to meet both the plant and the man it was named after. This is exactly what happened the day we ventured up onto the Hermon mountain on the Israeli border with Syria. Whilst the summit sits on the border between Syria and Lebanon at over 2800m in altitude the area we visited was one of the satellite peaks at 2236m. With no fenced borders and a high military presence we really had to watch we didn’t stray into a area we shouldn’t.

This rocky mountain range, in the north of Israel/ west of Syria, is home to a unique flora as it falls into the alpine zone. We were a little late to see Iris westii (and besides we would have needed special permits from the army to visit it) and the native Eremurus were also over but the botanical treats abounded.

Glaucium leiocarpum in the carpark near the ski lift at Israels only ski resort!

Glaucium leiocarpum in the carpark near the ski lift at Israels only ski resort!

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stunted and windswept trees at over 2000m altitude

stunted and windswept Juniperus drupacea trees at over 2000m altitude

The increadible view from the top.

The incredible view from the top.

Cool enough for roses to grow.

Cool enough for roses to grow.

Terrific Taraxacum species (haven't a clue which though)

Terrific Taraxacum species (haven’t a clue which though)

There where many spiny specimens up there too.

There where many spiny specimens up there too. (Thanks Ori Fragman-Sapir of Jerusalem Botanic Gardens for the identification of Cousinia hermonis)

Yep those white spots over there in Syria are snow!

Yep those white spots over there in Syria are snow!

Cotoniaster sp

Cotoniaster nummularia

Euphorbia sp

Euphorbia anrilibonatica

We just couldnt get away from the army presence and felt like our every move was being watched (which it probably was).

We just couldn’t get away from the army presence and felt like our every move was being watched (which it probably was).

Astragalus sp

Astragalus cruentiflorus

Boraginaceae

Cynoglossum montanum

Poppies and verbascum a Chelsea Flower show mix if ever I saw one!

Poppies and Verbascum damascenum a Chelsea Flower show mix if ever I saw one!

Ixolirion tataricum

Ixolirion tataricum

Salvia microstegia

Salvia microstegia

Its not often you find broomrapes so to find this one, Orobanche cohenii, was quite special.

Its not often you find broomrapes so to find this one, Orobanche cohenii, was quite special.

Scutellaria utriculata

Scutellaria utriculata

Rosularia lineata was growing in every crack in the rock alongside the Scutellaria utriculata

Rosularia libonotica was growing in every crack in the rock alongside the Scutellaria utriculata

Seed heads of the endemic Bellevalia hermonis

Seed heads of the endemic Bellevalia hermonis

The Bellevalia grew in the greenest areas; the hollows where the snow melted last.

The Bellevalia grew in the greenest areas; the hollows where the snow melted last. (that’s Ben in the pic)

I was amazed to find my 4th species of Aristolochia on the trip; Aristolochia scabridula.

I was amazed to find my 4th species of Aristolochia on the trip; Aristolochia scabridula.

 

Bare patches of ground made by the cows. We found a group of local batanists intently looking at the patches and I had to ask why.......

Next to bare patches of ground made by the cows we found a group of local botanists intently looking at the patches and I had to ask why…….

.....it seems that this cushion forming Alyssum only grows in these patches and whilst it keys out as a much taller species that grows nearby it seems to be remarkably different in many ways.

…..it seems that this cushion form of Alyssum only grows in these patches and whilst it keys out as a much taller species, Alyssum szovotsii, that grows nearby it seems to be remarkably different in many ways.

One of the botanists turned out to be Simon Cohen after whom Orobanche cohenii is named

One of the botanists turned out to be Simon Cohen after whom Orobanche cohenii is named

 

It was these botanists that led us to see the highlight plant of our trip Astragalus ehrenbergii.

It was these botanists that led us to see the highlight plant of our trip Astragalus ehrenbergii.

A very small population up a tiny path that you would never notice unless you knew where it was.

A very small population up a tiny path that you would never notice unless you knew where it was.

Only found here in Israel on the Hermon Mountain and in a small area of Turkey its two populations have become divided by aridity.

Only found here in Israel on the Hermon Mountain and in a small area of Turkey its two populations have become divided by aridity.

This increadibly beautiful species is now protected......

This increadibly beautiful species is now protected……

......by its proximity to the army road leading to the border with Syria.

……by its proximity to the army road leading to the border with Syria.

Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 9

A trip to the Israel/Lebanon border in search of the habitat of Iris lorteti found us in quite a cool Mediterranean climate at 1200m in altitude . We didn’t find iris but we did find plenty of other wonderful wild-flowers!

Right on the border with Lebanon.

Right on the border with Lebanon.

That's Lebanon over there!

That’s Lebanon over there!

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Wild hollyhock with Lebanon in the background.

There where lots of familiar plants around, particularly the Wild hollyhock, Alcea setosa. Thats Lebanon in the background.

ggggg

Echinops adenocaulos was another familiar species

Carrots

Wild carrots, Daucus carota, the wild relative of that mainstay of the British diet

pink convolvulus

Convolvulus dorycnium stood out like a saw thumb amongst the dry grasses. its completely unlike any other bindweed i have ever seen.

irish bells

A real cottage garden favorite – Moluccella laevis

Caparis

Capparis spinosa the pickled buds of which we eat as Capers.

allium

We soon realised it was onion flowering season in the Eastern Mediterranean when we saw lots of this wonderful Allium phanerantherum

allium

We also spotted this white form of Allium ampeloprasum

allium

We found Allium stamineum growing in small holes in the limestone rocks.

alliums

The little Alliums shared their rocky home with Rosularia

Townsendia

Rosularia libonatica

Bears breackes

Acanthus syriacus stood out as the thorniest plant in the incredibly spiny vegetation

spiny

the acanthus was however beaten on the spikey stakes by Gundelia tournefortii

dont know

I wish I knew what this sharp character is!

an absolutely delightful Dianthus.

an absolutely delightful Dianthus strictus. A delicate flower finding protection in the thorns

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Iris lorteti habitat

Iris lorteti habitat

The nearest we came to finding Iris - a few dried sticks. It was always going to be a long-shot!

The nearest we came to finding Iris – a few dried sticks. It was always going to be a long-shot!

Often the best places for wildlife to flourish are those where man cannot!

Often the best places for wildlife to flourish are those places where humanity has made it impossible for itself to flourish!

To be continued…….

Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 8

It’s international biodiversity day today and whenever I visit this little country I cannot get over its amazing (and threatened) number of different plant species. 2800 in a country the same size as Wales, which has just under 500. Yesterday we met Israels 4 native oak species.

Quercus ithaburensis

Quercus ithaburensis

Quercus boissieri

Quercus boissieri

Quercus cerris

Quercus cerris

Quercus calliprinos

Quercus calliprinos

 

 

 

 

 

Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 7

I am in Tel Aviv and it’s now over a year since my last Israel post. A family wedding has brought me here at a different time of year.

Most of the wildflowers here are over for the year and only their dry golden brown seedheads remain. So in order to find some green we headed to Tel Aviv’s rock garden in Yarkon Park, a real tribute to the world’s succulent plants, and we found lots of flowers.

Calotropis procera

Calotropis procera

 

Calotropis procera

Calotropis procera

 

Mother in laws cushion cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Mother in laws cushion cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Echinocactus grusonii flower

Echinocactus grusonii flower

Aloe
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Saurauia – a kiwi from the Cretaceous

Its not often we find a really great new plant, with potential to be hardy, that fits right into our ‘Fossil Plant’ remit. Lets face it there aren’t that many extant genera of plants out there that are so close to their fossil relative that they are pretty much indistinguishable. When, through tireless research, we do come across something that fits the bill it is often the case that we exclaim ‘Where on earth would we get one of those from?’ and the genera or particular species gets added to the list of ‘one-day we will grow one of them’ plants.

Just such a case is that of the genus Saurauia.

A member of the Actinidiaceae (related to Kiwi fruit) in the Ericales (the order that includes Heathers, the American pitcher plants, Primulas and Tea) the genus Saurauia can be found in Asia and, interestingly for its family, also in Central and South America. With around 250 species the genus is distinguishable by having only 3 to 5 carpels and being either monoecious or dioecious unlike the rest of the family.

What is more interesting for us though is that it is quite clearly represented in the fossil record of the late Cretaceous. Small well preserved flowers of Parasaurauia allonensis and two species of Saurauia (in the form of fossilised seed) are found in North America and Europe respectively. The only major difference between the Parasaurauia of then and the Saurauia of now being the presence of ten stamens arranged in two whorls in the androecium (the male reproductive section of a flower) instead of the fifteen to numerous number of stamens of modern Saurauia - Phylogenetic studies have subsequently placed Parasaurauia as sister to the rest of the Actinidiaceae.

Recently we were lucky enough to be able to strike Saurauia off that ’one-day we will grow one of them’ list. So without further ado I would like to introduce you to Saurauia napaulensis. A Kiwi fruit from the late Cretaceous.

Saurauia napaulensis from Wallich's 'Plantae Asiaticae Rariores' of 1831

Saurauia napaulensis from Wallich’s ‘Plantae Asiaticae Rariores’ of 1831

 

Our very own plant of Saurauia napaulensis

Our very own plant of Saurauia napaulensis

Plant studbooks; the connected aproach to ex-situ plant conservation.

Many years ago, as a teenager, I took a job working in my local zoo. Voluntarily at first and then as a member of staff; I was a zoo keeper. It was the job I had dreamed of doing since I had read the books of my all time conservation hero; Gerald Durrell.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that some of the animals at the zoo were there for the purpose of ex-situ (away from their natural habitat) conservation and that the goal for their being in captivity was to eventually build up enough animals to release back into their natural environment. All this was, and still is, managed through a studbooking system which was overseen by an organisation called the World association of zoos and aquariums (WAZA).

It seemed so practical to me that such schemes existed and I got actively involved in the studbook for the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). I had, admittedly, been indoctrinated by the master of zoo animal conservation; Mr Durrell.

Squirrel_posingDecades later and I no longer work with animals but my passion for nature has not waned. Now my focus is plants and I am lucky to work with many endangered species. One thing, however, that has struck me is that there doesn’t seem to be that same ‘joined up’ approach to ex-situ conservation in the botanic garden and horticultural world.

Certainly plenty are doing amazing things to conserve the most threatened species of plants. Yet that community that works toward a shared goal for individual species is missing or at best ad-hock. When you speak with the horticulturists growing these threatened plant species they tell you that they know they need to be propagating more of the plants in question and that the garden they work for has brought the plants into cultivation for the purpose of protecting them. They also say that they haven’t got a pollination schedule or that all the plants that have been produced are clones of the parent plant. Few of the species grown have a known number of genetically distinct individuals in cultivation and often the provenance (the specific location a plant came from) isn’t known either.

I am certainly not saying that ex-situ plant conservation is still in the dark ages and with recent work done on species like the Sink Hole Cycad (Zamia decumbens) conservationists are starting to gain a much stronger insight into cultivated plant conservation genetics. I am saying that we need to take a leaf out of the WAZA book by starting to apply a worldwide, linked up approach to the matter in hand. The first studbook for an animal in captivity for conservation was set up in 1932 for the European Bison which puts our endangered flora over 80 years behind the world’s fauna.

The first steps are already being taken BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International) already hold a database of the plants grown in botanic gardens wordwide, Montgomery botanical centre’s guidance on ‘Building living plant collections to support conservation‘ and schemes like the Plant Heritage‘s National Collections being taken on by international botanic garden organisations we are well on the way to a more collaborative method of international ex-situ plant conservation.

Piperales

I feel it’s time we took the next step!

We need a method of deciding what the priorities are for species that are part of ex-situ projects; a way of knowing where each individual is and a way of ensuring maximum genetic diversity within the worldwide ex-situ populations of a species. In short we need to be learning from the zoo world’s book and ‘studbooking’ plants.

I have my own ideas about how Plant studbooking could work but I am sure that solving this problem does not have a simple solution. I am also sure that a solution needs to be found as soon as possible if some of our most endangered species are to have a future.

 

Proud to hold a national collection

letterhead picOn 3rd September 2015 we were awarded National Plant Collection status for our collection of South East Australian Banksia species.

Banksia ericifolia

Banksia ericifolia ssp. ericifolia

The genus Banksia was first discovered in Botany bay, Australia, by Sir Joseph Banks, on Captain Cooks first voyage of discovery and introduced to British cultivation by him. These trees and shrubs are considered by many to be tender but this is often due to their intolerance of the phosphates that are found in modern fertiliser.
We first became interested in them whilst studying the fossil history of the family, proteaceae, to which they belong. We soon found out that the many of the Banksia species that come from the South East of Australia are very tolerant of the British climate when given the right soil conditions.
The collection currently holds plants of Banksia aemula, canei, collina, ericifolia ssp. ericifolia, integrifolia ssp. integrifolia, marginata, oblongifolia, paludosa ssp. paludosa, robur, serrata and spinulosa var. prostrata ‘Birthday candles’.

 

In search of Proteas; an easy start to our South African adventure.

After 14 hours, 3 excellent movies (thank-you Dame Helen Mirren) and absolutely no sleep we stepped off the plane into a country neither Ben nor I knew. We had in our minds what we expected and what we hoped for but after a life time of negative news reports we couldn’t help but feel a little concerned about what we may be letting ourselves in for. The concerns however were quickly put to one side when we were greeted by the most helpful taxi driver either of us had ever met. We were whisked off to our hotel – seeing little of the city in which we had landed.

waiting to board

Waiting to board

For practicality we had booked to stay at the Kirstenbosch Manor Guest House.  Owned and run by SANBI (South Africa National Biodiversity Institute) the guest house was built in 1914 and is surrounded by SANBI’s flagship gardens; Kirstenbosch.

Kirstenbosch Manor Guest House nestled into the top of the garden with Table Mountain in the background

Kirstenbosch Manor Guest House nestled into the top of the garden with Table Mountain in the background.

We arrived quite late and tired so didn’t really appreciate the beauty of the surroundings at the time but we woke in the morning to the sound of cicadas and an increadible view over the gardens and down to Cape Town and the sea beyond. We would need to make the most of the two more nights we had as guests of Kirstenbosch as this was going to be as luxurious as our trip would get.

the view from the guesthouse although the mist obscured Cape Town and the sea beyond

The view from the guesthouse; the mist obscuring Cape Town and the sea beyond.

Growing only native species (and a few historic non-native trees such as Oaks) Kirstenbosch is considered South Africa’s most beautiful garden. Nestled into the Table mountain hillside its slope creates the ideal environment to grow a huge range of South Africa’s native flora. We had hoped to wander around this garden in beautiful South African spring sunshine but the rain gods had other ideas and what we got was a very rare Cape Town thunderstorm.

An increadible stand of Cussonia paniculata (Araliaceae) not far from our room.

An increadible stand of Cussonia paniculata (Araliaceae) not far from our room.

That same morning we had arranged to meet up with our friend and Kirstenbosch’s wholesale nursery manager Cherise Viljoen for a tour of the garden and a look around the production nursery and Proteaceae propagation centre.  So, waterproofs on, we walked down through the gardens, trying not to get distracted on the way, to meet her.

Ben and Cherise on the Boomslang

Ben and Cherise on ‘the Boomslang’ as the thunderstorm passed by.

Laportia grossa a native stinging nettle that i took quite a shine too. It is quite a bit more stingy than our native nettle and certainly brought a tear to my eye!

Laportia grossa a native stinging nettle that I took quite a shine too. It is quite a bit more stingy than our native nettle and would really bring a tear to the eye!

An exhibition of full sized metal dinosaurs amongst the cycad grove. Some of these plants were centuaries old and are some of the most endangered living things on earth.

An exhibition of full sized metal dinosaurs amongst the cycad grove. Some of these plants were centuaries old and are some of the most endangered living things on earth.

I was really pleased to see the Welwitschia on show in the Botanical Society Conservatory

I was really pleased to see the Welwitschia on show in the Botanical Society Conservatory

But the ones behind the scenes were way more impressive!

But the ones behind the scenes were way more impressive! (Ben and Cherise are pretty impressive too!)

Behind the scenes in the Protea propagation centre

Behind the scenes in the Protea propagation centre

I really was not prepared for all that we saw. Normally able to at least identify the genus of the plant I am looking at; the flora left me totally stumped. We decided to call anything we didn’t know either ‘probably Asteraceae’ or ‘probably a pea’ as this is what things seemed to turn out to be when we further investigated them.

Knowltonia vesicatoria, I believe this species has now been sunk into the genus Anemone!

Knowltonia vesicatoria, I believe this has now been sunk into the genus Anemone!

 

Moraea sp (out of my depth here)

Moraea sp (out of my depth here)

Another Moraea sp. (again I just didnt know the species)

Another Moraea sp. (again I just didnt know the species)

 

Pelargonium sp ????????

Pelargonium sp ????????

Cheilanthes sp. we forgot to bring our guide to South African fern id!

Pellaea sp. we forgot to bring our guide to South African fern id!

There were however lots of Proteaceae to see and we spent some time honing our id skills in preparation for the field.

Leucospermum reflexum var. luteum with the cliffs of Table Mountain.

Leucospermum reflexum var. luteum with the cliffs of Table Mountain.

Protea rubropilosa

Protea rubropilosa

Leucospermum formosum

Leucospermum formosum

Leucospermum mundii

Leucospermum mundii

Leucadendron argenteum endemic to the slopes of Table Mountain

Leucadendron argenteum endemic to the slopes of Table Mountain

Our first day ended in dinner with, the man that pushed so hard to make this all possible for us, Rupert Koopman and his lovely, and at the time heavily pregnant, wife Flo;  an evening of amazing Italian food, the best of company and lots of talk of how horticulture can help plant conservation. A very perfect ease into our adventure.

NB: A huge congratulations to Flo and Rupert on the birth (since our return home) of Amelia #Fynbosbaby!

 

 

 

In search of Proteas.

The Proteaceae evolved over 100 million years ago on the supercontinent Gondwana, the subsequent breakup of which led to the family being distributed across the Southern Hemisphere and resulted in their high levels of speciation. As a perfect example of the Antarctic flora of Gondwana their story is of major importance to paleo-botanists, geologists, botanists and taxonomists alike.

Burnt Protea

Burnt Protea by Barbara Munro

Such a level of speciation has come at a high price for many members of the family. They have evolved to exist in very specific ecological niches. This has led to many members of the family becoming threatened with extinction, especially in a world changing so fast that they are unable to keep up.

South Africa’s Proteaceae are particularly at risk, their lives linked inextricably to highly specific environmental factors. Many of the high altitude species, adapted to cooler growing conditions, less frequent fires and unable to cope with the influx of non-native invasive plants and pests, are at the mercy of the biggest threat to biodiversity, Climate Change. They are being pushed higher and higher up their mountain homes leaving them isolated, eventually with nowhere left to go.

Growing so many species of Proteaceae already, we believe that many species will grow successfully in the UK climate yet many of the higher altitude species have never been tried here. This is largely due to the lack of availability of seed or plants as well as a lack of horticultural knowledge and endeavour.

King proteas will grow outside in a sunny sheltered spot here in the UK

King proteas will grow outside in a sunny sheltered spot here in the UK

 

The largest collection of Proteaceae ever in the UK was that of George Hibbert in his garden, considered at the time finer than Kew, in Clapham, London. Most of the, over 200, species of Proteaceae in this collection were grown in pots in his extensive conservatory; taken outside during the summer months and brought in again for the winter. Collected by James Nevin, as seed from the wild, Hibbert’s plants were exchanged only with George III and Empress Josephine of France and in edition 592 of Curtis’s Botanical magazine published in 1802 it reads “Introduced by Mr Nevin into the garden of Mr Alderman Hibbert, a gentleman whose munificence and urbanity leave to no lover of science a regret that so extensive and invaluable a collection should be the property of a private individual”. Hibbert’s plants were regularly illustrated, often by James Andrews, and furnished the pages of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. He has the honour of having many species named for him and the Genus Hibbertia, in the Dilleniaceae, is named for him also.

Hibbert’s gardener wrote about the Proteaceae in his book published in 1807. This was the last book to be published exclusively and in any detail about the cultivation of Protea in the UK.

September this year will see Ben and I heading off on quite a big adventure. We will realise a dream, long held, to visit the Western Cape of South Africa and see Proteas in the wild. We will follow in the footsteps of Nevin and collect seed of the Proteaceae species we find there.

Cone bush (Leucadendron) seed head by Barbara Munro

Cone bush (Leucadendron) seed head by Barbara Munro

The aim of this trip is to study the habitat and growing conditions of high altitude Proteaceae in the Western Cape of South Africa; to gain information on their horticultural needs and hence facilitate their ex situ conservation in the UK.

We will

  • Explore the cold, high rainfall mountain areas of the Western Cape of South Africa.
  • Analyse growing conditions. Including climate, soil structure and composition.
  • Collect seed of species from these areas.
  • Record location, environment and altitude as well as what other species are growing nearby
  • Upload this data to iSpot so that others can share in our findings easily
  • Cultivate plants arising from seed collected
  • Keep notes on the process and horticulture of resulting plants
  • Analyse the ability to grow these plants in the British climate under varying conditions.
  • Publicise the project and its findings both nationally and internationally, write articles  and blogs about it and the process of growing the plants.
  • Write reports to be made available to interested parties, including the Royal Horticultural Society, The Scottish Rock Garden Club, the Botanical Society of South Africa, BGCI, Cape Nature and SANBI.
  • Raise awareness of the difficulties faced by South Africa’s native flora as well as providing suggestions on which species are more suitable for UK horticulture.

Of course we will be tweeting from the expedition using the @fossilplants twitter account.

I hope the information we gain will act as a valuable update to the work of Hibbert over 100 years ago and I really hope it benefits the plants which Ben and I adore so much.

Another Fynbos plant that we look forward to seeing. Mountain Dahlia (Liparia splendens) by Barbara Munro

Another Fynbos plant that we look forward to seeing. Mountain Dahlia (Liparia splendens) by Barbara Munro

 

Our expedition would not be possible if it wasn’t for the team at Cape Nature: who have helped us so much with getting all the relevant permits and permissions, Rupert Koopman: who has advised and helped us all along the process, The Royal Horticultural Society and The Scottish Rock Garden Club: for their generous financial help and Martin Smit, of Stellenbosch University Botanic Gardens, for his support and encouragement.

Thank-you, also, to Barbara Munro for the stunning pictures that illustrate this blog. Barbara’s work can be found at www.botanicalart-barbaramunro.co.uk and will be on show at Annual Open Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists. It is held in Westminster Central Hall 15th to 24th April 2016 http://www.soc-botanical-artists.org/exhibitions.php