Hiking in Mediterranean woodland around Mount Carmel (2)

In the second part of her blog about a recent visit to the Yagur Reserve near Mount Carmel, Worms Travel Bursary recipient, Olivia – a final year Kew Diploma student in the UK – completes her report.

My walk took me through beautiful, dense (but dwarf) forest, which opened into small clearings of shrubby or steppe vegetation. I zigzagged up and down hillsides, looking at the changes in vegetation, but almost always surrounded by the smell of salvia in heat of the sun.

I loved the habit of the low growing trees, whose reduced height and small, waxy, evergreen leaves are adaptations to the climate: helping them to conserve water in the dry hot summer and allowing them to continue to photosynthesise when more water is available in the wetter winter months.

One of the most striking trees, was Arbutus andrachne. The bright red bark was stunning when it was illuminated by sunlight, especially when it was flaking to reveal the greeny-yellow of the young bark underneath.

Although it wasn’t peak season for herbaceous plants and their flowers, there were still plenty to see.  The bright blue spherical inflorescences of Echinops adenocaulis were both beautiful and conspicuous in the open steppe vegetation towards the base of slopes. I was particularly taken by Cephalaria joppensis in the Scabious family (Dipsacaceae), whose tall stems reached up to about 1.5m. It often lined the path in open areas and bore a lacy white flower with bright blue anthers. I also liked the delicate pink of Dianthus strictus, which was common on dry sunny boulder slopes where it had little competition from shrubs and trees. Another plant I was pleased to find was Campanula hierosolymitana, a small creeping campanula, which I had seen growing on the limestone rocks in Jerusalem Botanical Garden.

Dianthus strictus

Finally, I should note that, as a fern lover, I was extremely happy to seek out a fern on this walk- Asplenium ceterach. This may initially seem unexpected in a climate which is has almost no rain in summer and is extremely hot. However, Asplenium ceterach is an interesting fern because it displays desiccation tolerance. This means it can lose almost all of the water content of its cells (down to 4-7%,) shrivel into a dry brown mass, suspend photosynthesis and metabolic activity and then resurrect again when water arrives. This is in contrast to ‘normal’ vascular plant cells which die when water content goes below about 30%. The images below capture this phenomenon well.


Hiking in Mediterranean woodland around Mount Carmel (1)

Each year final year Kew Diploma students are given an opportunity to apply for the Worms Travel Bursary.  The successful candidate visits the JBG for four weeks and of course has the chance to discover plants in the wild growing elsewhere in Israel.  This year’s WTB scholar is Olivia.

I have loved exploring some of the arid desert regions towards the south of the country since I arrived in Israel almost three weeks ago. However, being English, by last weekend, I was in need of a green ‘fix’, so I headed up North towards the wooded terrain of Mount Carmel.

I started my walk at Kibbutz Yagur, where on this very hot May morning, girls dressed in jodhpurs, led ponies to a show-jumping arena, whilst a man on a megaphone called out their scores. I could hear the hum of traffic from the motorway I had just left behind, and with the mountains hidden behind buildings, I began to wonder if I was in the right place.

A short walk later, I entered a gate to the Yagur Reserve and I was completely transported.

A beautiful Mediterranean hillside, punctuated with low-growing trees and large boulders rose in the heat before me. In the slightly cooler shade of the trees, hundreds of butterflies played about, whilst the sound of crickets rang out from the grasses below.

I had specifically come to see the Mediterranean woodland and marquis vegetation, dominated by  Quercus calliprinos (Palestine oak) and other relatively low-growing evergreen trees and shrubs such as Pistacia lentiscus. The paucity of natural springs here has limited human settlement, which has allowed the natural woodland to remain relatively well preserved.


Forested hillside of the Yagur Reserve, near Mt Carmel. Dwarf trees dominated by                    Quercus calliprinos

Botanical Garden Visits (2)

This is the second report on a recent visit by UK Friends Trustee, Aaron Bertelsen who works at Great Dixter together with two of their interns.  Here Stephen writes about his impressions of the JBG.

When I applied for the Christopher Lloyd Scholarship at Chanticleer and Great Dixter, all of my horticultural training had been in the northeast United States. I thought England was exotic with its winters just warm enough to grow another range of plants not hardy enough for New York. Like other Dixter students before me, I decided to use travel funds given by Chanticleer to visit botanic gardens in Israel and observe plants in the wild. A completely different climate and plant palate in Israel opened my eyes to a new type of gardening.

Our tour of the Jerusalem Botanic Garden was led by Aaron Bertelsen, a co-worker at Great Dixter and a Trustee of the UK Friends of the Gardens (and an alumnus of the Internship program)  and Brandon George, a current intern at the Gardens, from America.

jbg image by stephen

Like other botanic gardens, the JBG was organized into geographic regions and biomes. Their mild winters allowed for plants impossible to grow outdoors in more temperate botanic gardens. Species normally regulated to pot culture and glass houses in the US and England were blooming in the ground in sizes and masses I’ve never seen before. I learned new genera and even recognized some plants from my own American biome surviving in Israel’s climate. Brandon was also able to give us a back-of-house tour, showing us his work propagating rare Mediterranean plants in the nursery and giving us a sneak peak into the newly-extended Conservatory.

Our trip to Israel wouldn’t have been complete without exploring Jerusalem. Luckily the Botanic Garden is easily accessible from the center of the city. We were able to visit the religious and historic sites, fill ourselves on great food, and explore the Shuk and other markets. The city was as diverse, in people, places, and culture, as its plants. I hope to return soon.

To apply for a horticultural scholarship at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, go to www.friendsjbg.org.uk, read the details and download an application form.

Botanical Garden visits (1)

Recently one of our Trustees, Aaron Bertelsen who works at Great Dixter, travelled to Israel with two of their interns.  Here’s what Henry wrote …

Spending a year as the scholar at Great Dixter gardens has presented me with a wealth of opportunities, but none have filled me with as much excitement and will live as long in the memory as our recent trip to Israel.

A landscape with an unrivalled catalogue of native flora; as diverse and rich as the cultures and communities that inhabit it. From inner city courtyard gardens brimming with colour, botanical gardens of international acclaim to fields of Echinops on the shores of the Galilee. Our few days was always never going to be enough!

Perched quietly amidst the arid Negev desert, a biblical setting overlooking the Dead Sea, sits the oasis of the Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens. A Kibbutz of magical quality, lovingly tended by the community that created it. Seldom does one visit a garden of such impact and contrast. With a mouth-watering array of species, fed by the mineral rich soils, irrigated by a natural spring and inhabited by its custodians, made this a stand out highlight and a must visit.


No horticultural trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to the JBG. Found in the heart of the city, it is a wonderful and easily accessible resource for the community. We were fortunate enough to have a behind the scenes tour from a current intern. What a privilege it was to see the workings of the nursery and to hear the passion and expertise of the staff we met. Finishing touches were being made to the Tropical Conservatory which I cannot wait to return and see.

I was once told ‘when you find a place you love, always leave something to come back for.’ Whether by design or consequence there will always be endless things for me to come back for.

Many thanks for the generosity and warmth we received from all who we met but mostly to my dear friend, colleague, JBG Trustee and inimitable guide Aaron Bertelsen for making it such an unforgettable and exciting trip.

Seed collecting from our rare plants

Brandon, our current propagation intern, writes about his current work …

Having worked at the Jerusalem Botanical Garden for over three months, I can now say that I have settled in. What I do day-to-day varies slightly but currently my job is primarily seed collecting.

One of the greatest aspects of managing the rare plant collection is ensuring that plants propagated from either seed or a vegetative state live long enough to produce viable seed. As most native Israeli plants are annuals, most of our plants here at the nursery begin growing or are planted in the autumn or winter when the rainy season begins and then by the end of Spring, when the temperatures increase and rain becomes more sporadic, plants are triggered into senescing. This natural cycle dictates what work needs to be done at the nursery and when.

Below is a perennial, Salvia multicaulis that I have collected seed from today. This Salvia, native to Israel is extremely rare, being found only in the Judean Mountains.

salvia multica

At the flowering stage with violet-blue flowers (photo Brandon George)

salvia multicaulis 2

When the flowers fall off, the bracts remain on the flowering stem and it is within these bracts that the seed develops (photo Brandon George)

salvia multicaulis seeds

Each single bract contains only one seed (photo Brandon George)

Each single bract contains only one seed (from what I have seen so far collecting them) which makes the collecting process for this plant a bit time-consuming. Fortunately, here at the Gardens, we have a fantastic group of volunteers who clean and store seeds, making my job as an intern much easier.

Visiting Jordan

Brandon, one of the propagation scholars (interns) writes about his trip to Jordon accompanied by Lysa, the curatorial scholar.   This was Lysa’s last trip before her scholarship completed and she returned home to the USA.  Lysa was a hard and dedicated worker and we want to acknowledge and thank her for all her efforts.

Last Thursday, Lysa, another Jerusalem Botanical Garden scholar, went on a guided tour of Petra in Jordan. This was my first visit to a Middle Eastern country outside of Israel and I was curious to see Petra, and some of the Jordanian landscape on my way to Petra. Our day was filled with travel but we stopped along the way before arriving to see the beautiful canyons of Petra. What stood out for me, besides the beautiful mausoleums in the canyons, was the geological formations of the layers of stone carved away by rivers over thousands of years. Petra is certainly a beautiful place and both Lysa and I left wishing we had more time to explore this incredible piece of history in Jordan. I am certain I won’t forget that mausoleum or that moon on the drive home.

Canyons of Jordan_ElysaDucharme

Jordan canyon_Elysa DuCharme_2

Sandstone layers in the canyon walls (Photo:  Elysa Ducharme)

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Colored layers of red, orange and brown stone run in horizontal layers on the canyon walls smoothed away by time. (Photo: Elysa Ducharme)

We managed to identify this beautiful silvery blue plant as Capparis aegyptia, which seems to be well adapted to growing on the canyon walls.

Jordan canyon_Elysa DuCharme_4

Capparis aegyptia (Photo:  Elysa Ducharme)

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Mausoleums terraced into the canyon walls (Photo:  Elysa Ducharme)

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Here, the most elaborate and well preserved of all the tombs at Petra. (Photo:   Elysa Ducharme)

Here, a photo of the rising moon that was incredibly beautiful to view in the hazy sky at dusk. For a moment it felt like I was in another world.

Jordan canyon_Elysa DuCharme_8

Field trip

Brandon, our most recently-arrived scholar and Longwood graduate, reports on a recent field trip …

On 20/02/18, the scholars and the Friends of the Gardens went on an excursion with the goal to see Iris atropurpurea and Tulipa agenensis. It was interesting to see a diversity of habitats on the Israeli coast and how each location allows for the specific conditions that these now endangered plants need to survive.

The first place we visited was the sand dunes along the coast of Rehavam Zeevi. Here, we found clumps of irises to be growing not too far from the cliffs.


This is the third location I have seen Iris atropurpurea growing in Israel and it’s interesting to note the subtle color variations that occur in the species. I attribute this to soil pH and nutrient levels in the soil with additional environmental factors within populations of a location but they are all beautiful nonetheless. I’m happy to know there are people like Dr. Ori Sapir-Fragman who are locating the populations of these Israeli natives not only to bring awareness of their locations but to note why they are worth preserving.

The second stop was along Highway 2, just north of Ma’agan Michael. Here, located near coastal fish farms, was elevated land that was very lush with plant growth and less sandy than that we’d encountered earlier at the dunes. The size difference of the flowering clumps was expected but some individual flowers were so large they looked like they could have been cultivars. The black centers contrasted well with the red petals and looked incredibly exotic. This is a Genus that is typically grown as an annual appearing in Spring where I live in the US, so once again I found myself appreciating tulips in a whole new light seeing it growing happily in its native environment.

iris 6

Seeking Israel’s oncocyclus irises

Francisco, one of the nursery/propagation scholars reports on a recent tour to seek out onocyclus irises …

There are ten species of the oncocyclus irises in Israel, all protected, the dark-purple Iris atropurpurea is the first to flower along the central Mediterranean coast, having scattered populations mostly surrounded by towns and cities.   Oncocyclus is a Greek word, with ‘onco’ meaning mass or bulk, and ‘cyclus’ meaning circle. This is believed to be in reference to the single dark patch on the falls of these beautiful flowers; it’s easier to see the spot on paler flowers (see photo below).

oncocyclus iris2

Oncocyclus irises; photo Francisco Lopez Torres

In the last week of January we visited a nature reserve in Nes Ziona, south of Tel Aviv.  There were many Iris atropurpurea in flower, the genus name was given by Linnaeus in honour of Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow.  The species name comes from the Latin ‘atroxmeaning very or fiercely and ‘purpureameaning purple. This clump has very dark, almost black flowers, but there were some variation on the colours.

Oncocyclus Iris1

Iris atropurpurea: photo Francisco Lopez Torres

The flowers do not have nectar and pollination is carried out by solitary male bees that use the flowers as a shelter from the colder nights. The seeds are dispersed by ants that use the aril as food but leave the rest of the seed untouched.


Wild Narcissus tazetta in the desert

Welcome to the first blog from our newest scholar, Brandon, who arrived at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens at the beginning of January, having just graduated from Longwood Gardens …

Last Thursday (18 January 2018), Scientific Director Dr Ori Fragman-Sapir took the scholars on an excursion to see wild Narcissus tazetta while collecting leaf samples to be sent to the UK for research purposes.

narcissus tazetta

narcissus tazetta by Brandon Geroge

The first site we visited was on steep rocky slopes of limestone just outside the city of Dimona in the Southern District of the Negev desert.  It’s an environment that seems so inhospitable for most plants to grow, I was pleasantly surprised to find isolated pockets of moist soil in the rocks, and it is here where the Narcissus were found thriving and at peak bloom in some cases.

After collecting samples, we drove south to a remote location off route 204. We walked along a low-lying area where a dry stream bed was present. I knew based on what we found at the previous site that this would be the perfect micro-climate to find the bulbs.

Here we found a mass of them and because of the sheltered site, the gorgeous fragrance wafted around us as we approached them. Having only seen Narcissus in cultivated gardens where I come from in the U.S.A, this trip gave me a better understanding of how this Genus grows in its endemic locations, while also realizing the incredible feat of dormancy this species can tolerate.

Iris Vartanii

iris vartanLysa, our curatorial scholar from the USA, writes about a rare and beautiful iris being sheltered and propagated in the JBG.  It has an interesting history … 

1880s Palestine, out on the rocky foothills near Nazareth stands Dr. Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan. An Armenian born in Istanbul, Vartan attended missionary school in Constantinople only to become an interpreter for the British army during the Crimean War. While interpreting for the army, he learned of the inadequate facilities that served as battlefield medical hospitals. This led him to study in Edinburgh to become a doctor and upon completion of his studies he moved to Palestine to open a medical facility in Nazareth. In the 1860s, Nazareth was home to approximately 5,000 citizens, but the nearest doctor or hospital was in Damascus or Beirut; ultimately, the only care was provided by charity.

In those foothills surrounding Nazareth, Vartan discovers a delicate little greyish lilac-white Iris. Its beauty accented by the stark light buff limestone which surrounds it. He collects it and sends it to Sir Michael Foster, an Iris expert, of the Royal Society in the U.K. for identification. Foster describes this precious specimen as Iris vartanii, after Dr. Vartan, in 1885 in Gardener’s Chronicles.

This rare species exists only in sixty-six locations in Israel’s Mediterranean ecosystem. A late fall/early winter bloom, it can currently be seen blooming in the Jerusalem Botanic Gardens in one of the rare beds in the Mediterranean section. Light lilac petals with dark purple veins and a yellow central ridge. It is truly spectacular.

iris vartan 2


Beck, Julianne (10 Jan. 2015). Between a Rock and a Future. Undercover Science. http://my.chicagobotanic.org/science_conservation/between-a-rock-and-a-future.
Foster, Prof. Michael (3 May 1892). “Bulbous Irises”. http://www.archive.org (A Lecture
delivered May 3, 1892 to the Royal Horticultural Society).
Dykes, William Rickatson. Iris Families You Ought To Know. Historic Iris Preservation Society. https://www.historiciris.org/iris-families-you-ought-to-know/
 Spiegel, Frances. Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the Nineteenth-century Middle East – a review. http://www.esra-magazine.com/blog/post/-vartan-of-nazareth.