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 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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Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 6

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, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 5

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, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 4

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, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 3

We are lucky that one of Ben’s relatives has an appartment 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 florished 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 recieves 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………

 

 

 

Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 2

“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.

Ferula communis dominates the view down into the West Bank and dominates the vegitation. traditionally this species would have been grazed out allowing for smaller species to grow.

Ferula communis dominates the view down into the West Bank and dominates the vegitation. traditionally this species would have been grazed out allowing for smaller species to grow.

We saw this plant of Iris haynei and really thought that this year we may be to early to see the iris flowering.

We saw this plant of Iris haynei and really thought that this year we may be too early to see the iris flowering.

Mandragora autumnalis, the Mandrake, a shapeshifting member of the Solanaceae that can take the form of a man.

Mandragora autumnalis, the Mandrake, a shapeshifting member of the Solanaceae that can take the form of a man.

Tulipa agenensis growing in profusion amongst the limestone rocks

Tulipa agenensis growing in profusion amongst the limestone rocks

 

Echium angustifolium i think!

Echium angustifolium i think!

 

Looking rather battered on the side of a path we saw our first flower of Iris haynei and gained hope!

Looking rather battered on the side of a path we saw our first flower of Iris haynei and gained hope!

 

We saw the first orchids of our trip, Orchis collina.

We saw the first orchids of our trip, Orchis collina.

rock strewn hilside we spied this.... Can you see it?

And then amongst the rock strewn hilside we spied this…. Can you see it?

A perfect Iris haynei in full flower!

A perfect Iris haynei in full flower!

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……

 

 

 

Botanising Israel, an epic adventure of war and wildflowers, part 1

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……

Salvia dominica with the Sea of Galilee behind.

Salvia dominica with the Sea of Galilee behind.

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.

Cyclamen grow in the cracks in the gun emplacements concrete!

Cyclamen grow in the cracks in the gun emplacements concrete!

Euphorbia heirosolymitana

Euphorbia heirosolymitana

Tulipa agenensis

Tulipa agenensis

Ephedra foeminia was tubling over the fences providing sanctury for many other plants.

Ephedra foeminia was tubling over the fences providing sanctury for many other plants.

The view from Ofir's lookout towards the Kibbutz

The view from Ofir’s lookout towards the Kibbutz

 

Furula communis dominates the landscape

Furula communis dominates the landscape

Lupinus pilosus grew in drifts on the slope down to the Galilee

Lupinus pilosus grew in drifts on the slope down to the Galilee

Gagea commutta

Gagea commutta

Gynandriris sisyrinchium was our first contact with a Israeli Iris on this trip

Gynandriris sisyrinchium was our first contact with a Israeli Iris on this trip

We then moved on to visit a wonderfull waterfall and slightly different environment at a place called Wadi Gilabon

Acanthus siriacus put on a wonderful show as we left Ofir's lookout.

Acanthus siriacus put on a wonderful show as we left Ofir’s lookout.

Asphodeline lutea greeted us at the begining of the path to the wadi

Asphodeline lutea greeted us at the begining of the path to the wadi

And on the slope down into the wadi Styrax officinalis was in full flower

And on the slope down into the wadi Styrax officinalis was in full flower

Lamium moschatum

Lamium moschatum

Possibly Muscari neglectum?

Possibly Muscari neglectum?

Hyoscyamus aureus

Hyoscyamus aureus

The waterfall

The waterfall

Cerinthe palaestina

Cerinthe palaestina with its lovely spotty leaves

 

Silybum marianum wasn't yet in flower but a little later would dominate the roadsides and grasslands

Silybum marianum wasn’t yet in flower but a little later would dominate the roadsides and grasslands

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……..