Creating a beautiful wall

This year (2017) the Friends are sponsoring three scholars and this is blog is by a recent arrival, Abby who comes from Maryland, USA.  This is what she has been doing this week.

I was put in charge of a new beautification project in the gardens. Ori (the Scientific Director) was given a large donation of Cyclamen persicum tubers, 800 to be precise.  He  wanted them to be planted in a wall in the main garden and I decided on the upper path, just below the library, where the cedar trees form an archway over the path. I was then contacted by Alan, a  volunteer coordinator. He had 3 students who needed a project for the next day.


In preparation, I gathered a lot of soil as a type of mortar which was moistened until it was a sticky thick consistency.  I also had hand trowels, to spread the “glue”. When the students arrived all was ready. We walked down to the path and I gave them a brief lesson on Cyclamen; like where the roots came out and where the leaves would emerge.

After that, the girls shunned the latex gloves as well as the hand trowels; instead they used their bare hands to scoop out the glue like mud and stuff it into the rock wall.

I showed them how I wanted it done. They were to grab a handful of mud and find a crack in the stone. Then they were to carefully insert the Cyclamen into the crack and cover with more mud.  The girls didn’t mind the messy job at all and were soon laughing and talking as if they did this sort of work every day!


They worked for an hour and a half and during that time they got exactly half of the Cyclamen planted! Very exciting! The next day, I had another volunteer and we finished up the final 400 tubers.

I had fun teaching the students about Cyclamen persicum. When these delightful plants begin to flower (hopefully next year) this walkway will be stunning. It will be a solid mass of delicate pink and white. If you’re able, come to the Gardens and check them out!

Shalom from the JBG!

Makhtesh Ramon

Here is the first blog by Sam, our latest Scholar, who arrived in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago. Here he talks about a trip he took with Eric – the current Scholar from Australia and Shemer – one of the gardening team.

On Saturday Eric, Shemer and I were in the Negev desert (the southern half of Israel) seeing sights, looking at plants and generally enjoying the amazing landscape. We decided to visit Makhtesh Ram…

Source: Makhtesh Ramon

Making a bit of a comeback: Salvia bracteata

James T, our current scholar from the UK, will be returning home within the month.  Here is his latest blog …

Salvia bracteata has become a bit of a celebrity here at the moment … currently being propagated in the Gardens after becoming extinct in Israel, it seems to be popping up in environmental blogs, community project newspaper articles – and even on TV. This is one of the species on the Red/ Rare Plants List which I have been looking after and propagating and, despite its famous nature, it is not too much of a diva to look after.

salvia beds 1

Two pictures of Salvias in the Rare Species beds in the Gardens – dotted also with Lupins

salvia beds 2.jpg

The Gardens’ plants were collected from the last 42 locations around Jerusalem before becoming extinct in the country due to urban development. The plant grows in arid Mediterranean scrubland on limestone and once-mountainous fallow fields.

The plants geographical distribution is from Turkey, Syria, Northern Iraq and Western Iran, down to Jordan and Israel. The plant may not be the most striking compared with others in the Genus – but in cultivation has a relatively dense form that can be used towards the edge of a mixed border.

More plant info can be found in the Red Data Book on the Endangered Plants of Israel:   (press the small English link on the left).

The buzz around the plant is coming from conservation methods and the community engagement that is taking place. With the help of Ori Fragman-Sapir (Scientific Director), the JBG Hub (for Social and Environmental Action) team have been organising planting events in the Gazelle Park not too far from the Gardens and its original habitat. Planting events have already taken place using some of our propagated material, with more on the way – hopefully 300 plants from cuttings and 50 from seed.

Here’s the link to the JBG Hub’sFacebook Hebrew article:

I have been tasked with propagating these and, since mid-December, I have been taking cuttings from the mature specimens found in the Gardens, making sure only to take 50% or less of the existing material so not to hold back the plant too much for the next growing season. I had a wonderful demonstration on how to propagate soft wood cuttings from Shlomit Goren, one of the Gardens’ volunteers, who also volunteers at a commercial nursery. According to Maya (our nursery manager) there is no one who has a higher success rate when it comes to cuttings and, after seeing the ones she did 4 weeks later with fabulous root structures (ignoring my attempts), I have to agree. All cuttings were put into cups, with the nursery propagation mix (Standard Mix – Perlite – Vermiculite in equal measure), with rooting hormone and put under the misters in the Nursery on the heated benches. I found that different batches have taken around 2 months to produce a good enough root system ready to be potted on or put into a Standard Mix with Osmocote. Now into March we are on our way to producing the desired 300.

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Salvia bracteata cuttings after 2 months on the misting bench in the nursery


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Salvia bracteata cuttings being transplanted, after root development

50 Salvia bracteata are also coming from seeds, collected from the Gardens last year and soaked in gibberellic acid to aid germination. The high germination rate means we had more than enough germinations to pot on and they are all growing well outside. In fact we have spare germination if anyone wants them, a list of spare rare plant seedlings has been sent around to other gardens.


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Salvia bracteata seedlings in the Gardens’ nursery

This activity has sparked media interest with a newspaper article – and a TV spot, as I had a camera crew filming  me one afternoon while potting on some of the cuttings (I felt like I was on Gardener’s World).

Link to newspaperarticle:

It’s not all about Salvia bracteata though – many Salvias are flowering up and down the country – from Salvia Lanigera  in the Negev to Salvia fruticosa  in the coastal areas of Haifa. In the Gardens two species have caught my eye – Salvia multicaulis (also on the endangered Red List) and Salvia indica – the latter is a little bit showy and a good geometric form with bold foliage. In my lunch break I have taken advantage of the wonderful weather (compared with that back home I hear) and sketched them for future record.

salvia fruticosa

Salvia fruticosa


salvia lanigera

Salvia lanigera

salvia multicaulis

Salvia multicaulis

salvia indica sketch

Salvia indica

It’s great to know some of my work out here is benefitting this particular plant community and the human one also.

All the photos and sketches are the copyright of James Toole.


Geophytes, glowing hues and geology in the Negev Highlands

Today we hear from Noach M, another of the UK Friends sponsored interns…

In Hebrew there is a saying, Kol kotz bamidbar hu perach – “Every thorn in the desert is a flower.”

This could be alluding to the first-glance impression of sparse vegetation in a hostile and arid environment. It also says something about human appreciation for plant-life: in the hot dry desert of Israel, plant-loving Israelis find beauty in even the most modest and, in some cases, the prickliest of plants. In fact in Hebrew, native-born Israelis call themselves Sabras, or Opuntia sp.

This week, on an excursion to explore the Negev desert and the early Spring bloomings, we saw not just thorns in the desert, but flowers which, in their own right, would be valued and appreciated for their beauty the world over. The barren environment in which they exist, in contrast to the stunning seasonal floral display, only serves to increase the awe factor.

We started out on the southern coastal plain, still in the Mediterranean region, visiting Humra Hill near Palmachim, and finding impressively flowering clumps of Iris atropurpurea.

James Toole by OFS

Photo:  Ori Fragman-Sapir .  In the photo, James T, my co-intern admiring iris atropurpurea

We then progressed deeper into the Negev desert, towards the Nizzana border crossing with Egypt. Here we stopped the jeep at the side of an empty desert highway and walked a few metres into the desert. The splotches of purple were thinly spread, but eminently noticeable. Smaller than the atropurpureae, the Iris mariae is brighter and more eye- catching in the yellowish gray of the desert. This iris, unlike others, does not have nectaries, and so it doesn’t rely on hungry pollinators attracted to a free meal. Instead, the flower has compartments, protected by the corolla, that provide ‘accommodation’ to the bees, sheltering them from sun, rain, wind, and predators, while covering them with pollen during their stay.

Iris mariae by james toole

Iris mariae   Photo:  James Toole


Ori was excited to find some Muscarii filiforme , a small, bulb with bright blue flowers, near the ‘Machtesh ha gadol’ (the large crater). We dug up some bulbs and they will be entering the nursery as the newest members of our bulb collection!

Muscarii filiforme by OFS

Muscarii filiforme    Photo:  Ori Fragman-Sapir

We stopped for lunch on the edge of the crater, one of three geological formations that are unique to the Israeli and Sinai deserts. Unlike impact craters, the machtesh (this kind of crater) were formed because the bedrock was composed of two distinct types of rock: one that was softer and more erodible and one that was harder. Over millions of years, the soft rock dissolved, leaving the harder, heavier rock supporting itself … until it couldn’t. The subsequent collapse left a massive, irregular indentation in the earth, with jagged cliffs along the edge, an infinitely prominent feature of the landscape. On what felt like the highest point of the whole thing, we sat with our legs hanging over the machtesh’s edge, drinking cold water in the heart of the desert.

four interns Machtesh Rimon Feb16 _OFS

At the edge of the Machtesh Rimon   Photo:  Ori Fragman-Sapir



On our way back from the view point, we spotted a single bright red spot on a yellow-gray hill.

Tulipa systola_James Toole

Tulipa systola   Photo:  James Toole


A single Tulipa systola, blooming in full glory, with red petals, yellow anthers, with contrasting black patches. The stem  emerged from a twirl of wavy, curly blue leaves. The lone tulip is probably one of the first of the season, a herald that in a week or two, these seemingly barren hills will be covered in bright, beautiful blooms, an extreme reminder of the onset of spring in an extreme environment.

tulips on negev hillside 2016_James toole

A hillside covered in tulips last year, March 2015.  Photo:  Noach Marthinsen


Oh yeah. We were in the desert. So there were also camels.

camels in the desert_noach martinsen

Camels in the Negev  Photo:  Ori Fragman-Sapir


Look out for more from Noach in future blogs.

Rheum Palaestinum

Writing about his work in the Nursery, James T, one of the current interns, explains how he has approached propagating one of Israel’s rare and endangered plants.

Rheum Palaestinum is on Israel’s ‘Red List’ of Rare and Endangered Plants. It has ornamental potential but doesn’t seem to like it out in the borders of the Garden.  Known as the desert rhubarb it is found in 32 sites around the Southern Negev,  in the Southern Jordan Mountains and the northern areas of Saudi Arabia. Its preferred habitat is rocky ground, rocks and cliffs and desert rocks, usually above 850 metres and is often found growing with Artemisia sieberi, a companion plant.

This herbaceous perennial has a ground-hugging form compared with relatives grown in Europe with an interesting flower spike which adds to the ornamental potential in the right environment. The issue with using this plant within the Gardens here in Jerusalem is that it struggles in the winters of the city, but also the long tap root it sends out once germinated means it doesn’t like being transplanted. To combat this it is often put into deep pots to allow for the root system to develop correctly.

Rheum Palaestinum 1

Taking this into account I have sown the seeds of this plant in two different ways. One using the standard shallow seed trays used in propagating most of the material in the nursery, which will be transplanted into a deep pot or bucket quickly after germination. The other seeds have been sown directly into deep plug trays; ¾ of the plugs filled with a standard mix with osmocote used in the nursery, ¼ is a propagation mix where the seed is placed. It seems to have worked so far – with some good germinations, hopefully meaning when the plant is transplanted into the garden or in a bucket it will have a better developed and less disturbed root system.

Rheum Palaestinum 2

Rheum Palaestinum 3

I look forward to watching this plant develop in the next couple of months, hopefully my little experiment works. If not, I’ve got the standard method (germinating today) as back up.

Further and more in depth information can be found at































































A fascinating mound

I’m James T, the current Friends of JBG sponsored intern in Jerusalem. I write this from underneath a mound of rare and/or endangered seeds given to me to propagate for the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and other projects around Israel.

a fascinating mound cartoon

It is a fascinating mound, not just because of the variety of plant material to propagate but also because it seems never-ending!   This, though, is by no means a complaint, as one thing I have learnt over the last couple of months is that there is always something interesting to be getting on with.

rare seeds

The rare seed stockpile (c) James Toole


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Never thought I’d propagate a dandelion!  (c) James Toole


My role in the Gardens is a balance of looking after the Rare and Endangered Plants and looking after the plant material in the quarantine area, ready for the Tropical House when the rebuild is complete. Dan A (Australian Intern) gave me a wonderful introduction to the management of this intriguing area – and the legacy of previous intern Hans M. I am still finding notes from him amongst and around the plant material e.g. ‘water this carefully with a watering can’ in the area designated for ferns.  Very helpful for someone who has had little practical experience in managing such environments and plant material – I am still worried I may be neglecting certain plants’ needs.

quarantine cartoon

How I felt once left to maintain the Quarantine area on my own!  (c) James Toole

Watch out for more news about how James is getting on ….





































November flowering on Mount Hermon

I am James T, the current Friends of JBG-sponsored intern at the Gardens. I arrived at the beginning of November 2015 for a six-month placement.  Within two days of being in the country – and even before I had done any work to earn my keep – Ori (Scientific Director) took me on a botanical tour of the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.

It was a fascinating experience seeing species such as Crocus pallasii, Colchicum antilibanoticum and Sternbergia colchiciflora as well as many more. The highlight was the carpet of Sternbergia and Colchicums found on the border to Syria within the Golan Heights – flowers, minefields and nearby gun fire a surreal mix.

The rocky outcrop (pictured) was a great habitat for these geophytes protecting them from being uprooted by hungry animals; an issue that the Gardens have with their resident porcupine population, though Sternbergia seem to be fine as they are poisonous to the species.

sternbergia and colchicum

Sternbergia and colchicum (c) James Toole

A journey north. Part 3 – we arrive at Mt Carmel

This is the final part of the blog by intern Jack C, writing about an epic trip he made last year while in Israel.

We stopped at an abandoned Circassian cemetery, right on the Syrian border. Amongst overgrown graves, dimly lit by the dappled light entering through an almost closed canopy, were a couple of species of Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia paecilantha, with its faint yellow limb covered in psychedelic brown speckles and Aristolochia scabridula, a more dark and mysterious character lurking patiently for flies to pollinate it. Just on the edge of the cemetery in a clearing bathed in sunlight, a lone Iris mesopotamica stood basking in all its glory, the huge flower hovering on its stem at eye level. We had seen the foliage of this spectacular species where it originates from in Mt. Hermon, but it is often planted in old cemeteries. While exploring the graveyard we could hear the distant sounds of conflict in Syria, bringing an unsettling reminder of the volatile nature of this region.


Aristolochia paecilantha (c) Jack Clutterbuck

 Eryngium creticum

Eryngium creticum (c) Jack Clutterbuck

 As we reached Mt. Carmel the excitement of finding the Madonna lily was building. We walked down a dusty burnt-red track lined with electric blue Eryngium creticum and monstrous Onopordum cynarocephalum. A small opening in the scrub revealed a worn path up into the cliffs above. Hans (the Propagation-track intern), who is no stranger to plant hunting, started scrambling up the path like a hound on a trail. ‘Where there is a path, there will be flowers’, he proclaimed as he disappeared out of sight. In no time at all he was yelling for us to follow him. We clambered up the cliff through oak scrub using all four limbs until we reached an opening. There was Hans, stood amongst the gleaming white Lilium candidum that appeared to jolt out of the volcanic rock. Gradually everyone made it up to the lily filled opening that looked out to the Mediterranean Sea. We sat admiring them for some time, struck by their graceful presence and pleased that we’d managed to encounter their beauty. We all inhaled the potent fragrance that was being released from their immense white trumpet flowers. Cheap toilet air freshener we all agreed.

Lilium candidum


Lilium candidum (c) Jack Clutterbuck


On the walk back to the car I tried to recount all the plants that I had seen over the past two days. Too many for my head I thought. Later that week I would rediscover many of them being cultivated at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, where Ori has been building up a substantial ex-situ collection of Israel’s rare and endangered plants for the purposes of conservation, research, and education. Suddenly in the distance a jackal began to howl, and gradually a whole chorus joined in that echoed around the mountain.

Coming soon … the latest blog from our current intern, James T