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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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