Botanising Israel, Part 12 – Another search for Iris lortetii (CAUTION – may contain very cute, sleepy, bees)

Our 2018 trip to Israel was timed to coincide with the flowering of Iris lortetii.

I had first encountered this Iris in 2014 when we had come across it at Ramat Hanadiv. It was the one species I really wished to see in flower in the wild more than anything. It is, i think, the most beautiful of the Oncocyclus Iris species.

Iris lortetii occurs in two populations one in the north of Israel called Iris lortetii var. lortetii and a southern population found growing within The West Bank known as Iris lortetii var. samariae. It was this latter population that we attempted to find first during our trip. I cannot say that we entered The West Bank without some trepidation, especially as there had been recent recent protests in the area.

 

The ridgeline road between Itamar and Givat Ha'Arba'a in the West Bank.

The ridge-line road between Itamar and Givat Ha’Arba’a in the West Bank.

Alas, we did not find Iris lortetii on this trip despite having clear instructions and maps as to where we may find it. We did however find The West Bank full of other fabulous plant species.

Ophrys umbilicata

Ophrys umbilicata

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Centurea eryngioides (pink form)

Centaurea eryngioides (pink form)

Centaureaeryngioides (yellow form)

Centaurea eryngeoides (yellow form)

Scorzonera papposa

Scorzonera papposa

Wild Chicorum endiva

Wild Chicorum endiva

Asteriscus hierochunticus ( a little plant I desperately want to grow)

Asteriscus hierochunticus ( a little plant I desperately want to grow)

We gave up our search for the West Bank Lortet’s Iris but we knew where we would find some of the variety Samariae in flower for sure.

Iris lortetii var. samariae in our friends nursery.

Iris lortetii var. samariae in our friends nursery.

Luckily a friend has a nursery and seed company in Israel and we knew he would grow Iris lortetii var. samariae as well as its northern counterpart. We were not disappointed.

Iris lortetii in cultivation in Israel

Iris lortetii in cultivation in Israel with hand pollinated flowers covered in silk bags so that there will be no cross pollination between these plants and the other species grown at the nursery.

A few days later we had word that the northern populations were at their peak so we set out on a mission to find them. First stop, however, were some plants that had been trans-located for their own protection.

We got to this fenced clump of plants just as the sun was coming around to hit their south eastern side and our timing could not have been more perfect.

fences around the clump of Iris lortetii for their protection. The plants, however. are escaping.

Fences surround the clump of Iris lortetii for their protection. The plants, however. are escaping.

 

Can you spot the pollen on the fall of this flower?

Can you spot the pollen on the fall of this flower? if you look closely you can just make out the culprit.

Solitary male longhorn bees use the flowers as overnight shelter. they are atracted by the dark spot on the fall and prefer to use the east or south east side of the flowers to shelter as the dark spot heats up more quickly in the sun in the morning which warms them up and gets them set for the day ahead.

Solitary male longhorn bees use the flowers as overnight shelter. they are attracted by the dark spot on the fall and prefer to use the east or south east side of the flowers to shelter as the dark spot heats up more quickly in the sun in the morning which warms them up and gets them set for the day ahead.

Male bees were clambering out of each of the flowers as the sun hit them.

Male bees were clambering out of each of the flowers as the sun hit them.

and they were absolutely covered in pollen.

and they were absolutely covered in pollen.

We counted what looked like three different species of solitary bee emerging from the Iris flowers. We watched this amazing pollination phenomenon for ages and it was only when all the little male Eucerini bees had flown away that we moved off to see if we could find truly wild Iris lortetii.

We drove almost to the border with Lebanon before we spotted them growing on a sun baked hillside above the road. The drift of pale flowers, each bigger than my fist, didn’t stand out much and it took quite a keen eye to spot them. But when you did spot them there was no missing them.

Iris lortetii habitat

Iris lortetii habitat with Euphorbia and Ranunculus.

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The Flowers came in quite a variety of different colours.

The flowers came in quite a variety of different colours in the northern population…..

including this darker one similar to Iris lortetii var. samariae

including this darker one similar to Iris lortetii var. samariae

I will never forget meeting with this, in my oppinion, the most beautiful of the Royal Iris.

I will never forget meeting with this, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the Royal Iris.

Iris lortetii is assessed by the IUCN as Endangered with only just over 2000 mature individuals known. You can download its RedList assessment here

If you would like to know more about the incredible pollination strategy of the flowers being used by night sheltering bees you can download a paper about the phenomenon in related Iris atropurpurea here

The Sapir Lab at Tel Aviv University studies the pollination and evolution of flowers and the evolution of flower colour. The team, through Tel Aviv University Botanic Gardens, are also involved in the conservation of Israel’s threatened Iris species including Iris lortetii. You can find out more about what they do here

 

 

 

 

Botanising Israel, part 11 – Little pink flowers and bee flies.

Little pink flowers and bee flies.

During the years I have been visiting Israel and learning about its incredible diversity of wild flowers I have gone from making my very first forays into identifying the general flora of the region to developing a deeper understanding of the plant communities and their ecology.

I have unearthed stories as diverse as that of the male solitary bees that take shelter in the Iris flowers overnight (another time maybe) to the importance of the flora to the culture and history of this area of the middle east.

However, there is one little ecological story that I particularly adore. That of Linum pubescens and its pollinator, the Bee-Fly (Usia bicolor).

In every Linum flower there is a Bee Fly up to something!

In every Linum flower there is a Bee Fly up to something!

Linum pubescens Banks & Sol. (Linaceae) is a common, annual, plant in Israel and is found growing in large swathes among the Maquis and Garrigue vegetation across the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Linum pubescens flowers last just a few days and open a few at a time over their flowering period from February to May. Whilst the overall colour of the flower is a strong to light purplish pink (RHS Colour chart 6th ed.) the colour of the base of the petals is dimorphic – some petal bases are dark and some light.

One day whilst walking on Mount Gilboa I noticed the bee‐fly Usia bicolor regularly frequents the flowers of L. pubescens and has an, obviously, intimate association with the flower.

On asking Yuval Sapir (Director of Tel Aviv University Botanic Garden) about this interaction he pointed me to a study produced by his lab on the nature of this relationship – quite one of the most engaging plant/insect relationships I have come across. The bee flys use the pale centered flowers in the morning for feeding and the dark centered flowers in the afternoon as breeding platforms. On cool mornings the flys that used the dark centered flowers the previous evening remain in the dark centered flowers overnight and sit in them for longer in the morning. Sometimes, if you look at the flowers in the afternoon you will see a little bbe fly orgy going on in the centre of each dark centred flower.

If like me you want to know more about this interesting interaction between a unassuming plant and its lovely little pollinator you can download the papers below…

‘Response of bee-flies to the shape and pattern of model flowers: implications for floral evolution in a Mediterranean herb’ S.D. Johnson & A. Dafni.

 

‘Pollinator-mediated selection on floral size and tube color in Linum pubescens: Can differential behavior and preference in different times of the day maintain dimorphism?’ M. Lebel, U. Obolski, L. Hadany & Y. Sapir.

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Botanising Israel, part 10 – A parasite and its botanist.

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, part 9 – getting to know onions/a search for Iris lortetii

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, part 8 – Oaks

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, part 7 – Tel Aviv rocks

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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Botanising Israel, part 6 – Meeting royalty

Israels national collection of Oncocyclus iris is held at Ramat hanadiv the burial place of Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934). Edmond was a major figure in the establishment of the modern state of Israel and through his support for the Jewish community based in British mandate Palestine he enabled a safe haven for Jews fleeing Russia (during the post revolutionary chaos called the Third Aliyah) and Europe prior to the  Second World War. A major land owner in British Mandate Palestine Rothschild firmly believed in creating a unified Arab/Jewish state and famously wrote to the League of Nations “the struggle to put an end to the wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.” Alas history has since played its hand.

The Iris at Ramat Hanadiv are mostly held in behind the scenes propagation facilities but as part of the project the centre has set up a display garden to showcase the different species of Oncocyclus from Israel and its neighbouring countries. We visited expecting to see some Iris and we really were not dissapointed!

Ramat Hanadiv

The propagation area at Ramat Hanadiv just full of Iris

Signage in the Iris garden in Israels 3 national languages.

Signage in the Iris garden in Israels 3 national languages.

Iris atropurpurea flowering in Ramat Hanadiv's iris garden

Iris atropurpurea flowering in Ramat Hanadiv’s iris garden

 

The Iris mariae flowering in Ramat Hanadiv made me wonder how my very own plant of it was faring back home in North Wales.

The Iris mariae flowering in Ramat Hanadiv made me wonder how my very own plant of it was faring back home in North Wales.

Iris hermona

Iris hermona

Iris atrofusca

Iris atrofusca

Iris samariae

Iris samariae

Iris mariae in the propagation area

Iris mariae in the propagation area

 

Iris atropurpurea

Iris atropurpurea

 

Ramat hanadiv isnt just about Iris. They hold exsitu populations of many of Israels threatened plant species. This is Lotus edulis (the pods of which are very tasty).

Ramat hanadiv isnt just about Iris. They hold exsitu populations of many of Israels threatened plant species. This is Lotus edulis (the pods of which are very tasty).

 

Sedum litoreum

Sedum litoreum

 

Salvia eigii

Salvia eigii

Reichardia intermedia

Reichardia intermedia

 

Cerinthe palaestina

Cerinthe palaestina one of my favorite Israeli native plant species

The Iris hermona flower that I was allowed to bring home and add to my herbarium

The Iris hermona flower that I was allowed to bring home and add to my herbarium

Ramat Hanadiv is an inspirational place to visit. A tranquil garden celebrating and remembering the life of an extraordinary man.

We would very much like to thank the team there for hosting us and giving us the time they did to show us the work they are doing to try and protect some of Israel’s extraordinary plant species.

Botanising Israel, part 5 – Negev

I never finished my series of blogs about my trip to Israel in March ’14. It’s not that I forgot or that I got bored of writing them. It’s because at the time, due to heightened levels of conflict in the Middle East, it just didn’t seem all that appropriate.

Having just returned from another trip to Israel I think it is time to revisit the series of blogs and bring you up to date with my botanical adventures in the Holy Land. So please indulge me and take a step back in time to the beginning of March 2014.

A trip into the Negev desert…

We took the opportunity the day after our visit to Jerusalem to go for a hike in the Negev desert an area that covers approximately 4,700 square miles and amounts to over half the land area in Israel. The desert and semi desert habitats hold a unique wealth of flora and we were pleased to track some of it down on our walk…..

Drimia maritima

The sparcity of vegitation in some areas of the desert is quite amazing and then as if from nowhere there is a Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima)!

Drimia undulata

Another autumn flowering bulb; Drimia undulata

Ornithogalum trichophyllum

Ornithogalum trichophyllum i think!

Looking up Ein Prat

Looking up Ein Avdat

 

Erodium crassifolium

Erodium crassifolium

Glaucium grandiflorum

Glaucium grandiflorum

Cistanche tubulosa

Cistanche tubulosa a parasite of the white desert broom.

Wild date palms

Wild date palms (Pheonix dactylifera) growing at Ein Akev

I didn’t think we could top all this amazing flora but then on our way home we stopped in at one of the Iris nature reserves and found Iris petrana in full flower!

Iris petrana

Iris petrana

Iris petrana

Iris petrana as far as the eye can see, until you see the army base on the horizon. I wonder if these plants would be here if it wasnt for the army presence all around them.

 

Gagea commutata

Gagea commutata growing hapily in the sand along side the iris

Gynandriris sisyrinchium

Gynandriris sisyrinchium out of focus but clearly showing the sand these plants were growing in.

Iris petrana

Iris petrana

 

More Iris petrana

More Iris petrana

iris petrana yellow

To top it all off we saw this Yellow Iris petrana. I couldnt believe my eyes!

It really does amaze me that such beautiful things can grow in such harsh conditions. Of course it is the adaptation to the environments they live in that makes them even more special.

To be continued……….

Botanising Israel, part 4 – Jerusalem

From our base at En Gedi we headed to Jerusalem for a day, the friends we were in Israel with wanted to see the culture and sights of the worlds oldest city and we took the opportunity to visit Jerusalems Botanic Gardens in the hope of seeing some of those illusive Iris. We got there to find that the botanic garden had experienced the worst snow it had ever seen just a couple of months earlier and was in the process of a major clearup opperation. However the extreme weather hadn’t stopped the native plants from putting on a show.

the walls of Jerusalem are full of wildflowers

the walls of Jerusalem are full of wildflowers

Onosma orientalis growing out of the city walls

Onosma orientalis growing out of the city walls

devistation at Jerusalem Botanic gardens

devistation at Jerusalem Botanic gardens

The introduced Oxalis pescaprae putting on a show

The introduced Oxalis pescaprae putting on a show

 

Almost the first thing we saw on entering the gardens was a display containing native israeli wildflowers.

Iris atropurpurea on display just inside the garden entrance

Iris atropurpurea on display just inside the garden entrance

Iris mariae our very own Oncocyclus iris in flower at Jerusalem Botanic gardens

Iris mariae, our very own Oncocyclus iris, in flower at Jerusalem Botanic gardens

 

Tulipa sylvestris

Tulipa sylvestris

 

Astragalus cretaceus

Astragalus cretaceus

peaonia mascula

peaonia mascula not yet in flower.

Salvia bractiata an extinct native being planted out in the garden having been rescued from oblivion.

Salvia bractiata an extinct native being planted out in the garden having been rescued from oblivion.

Salvia bractiata conservation bed

Salvia bractiata conservation bed

a very small plant with a big heap of hope, Salvia bractiata

a very small plant with a big heap of hope, Salvia bractiata

Narcissus tazetta the Israeli native Narcissus species

Narcissus tazetta the Israeli native Narcissus species

scilla hyacinthoides

scilla hyacinthoides

Iris atropurpurea

Iris atropurpurea

JERUSALEM

JERUSALEM

To be continued………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Botanising Israel, part 3 – OH-asis

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 view from the apartment at En Gedi

The view from the apartment at En Gedi

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.

on entering the nature reserve you are met by plants of Grewia villosa a very rare small desert tree.

on entering the nature reserve you are met by plants of Grewia villosa a very rare small desert tree.

 

Acacia raddiana

Acacia raddiana

Caparis decidua is another species found at Ein-Gedi.

Caparis decidua is another species found at En-Gedi.

Unfortunately the trees of Caparis and Grewia have to live in cages. they are so rare that they have to be protected from grazing.

Unfortunately the trees of Caparis and Grewia have to live in cages. they are so rare that they have to be protected from grazing.

Rock hyrax (a small cousin of elephants) the main perpetrator of the grazing.

Rock hyrax (a small cousin of elephants) the main perpetrator of the grazing.

Capparis spinosa, another native caper, is however quite common in the desert.

Capparis spinosa, another native caper, is however quite common in the desert.

 

En Gedi spring, bringing life to the desert

En Gedi spring, bringing life to the desert

And in the middle of the desert there were ferns. Adiantum capillus-veneris clothed the sides of the water falls and anywhere that was remotely moist.

And in the middle of the desert there were ferns. Adiantum capillus-veneris clothed the sides of the water falls and anywhere that was remotely moist.

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………