Plant insights

We haven’t posted here for a long time because our horticultural interns preferred taking photos rather than writing. So we were really pleased when one of our current interns, Isaac Odidi, decided to share his musings about the work he’s doing in the Gardens’ nursery.

We haven’t posted on WordPress for a while as our interns have preferred photography to writing so we are really happy that one of our nursery propagation interns, Isaac Odidi, has shared his thoughts with us.

One of the most interesting aspect of propagation is to witness the germination of seeds. This process is quite simple as one might be merely observing a plant, but the underlying process is breath-taking. The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, as any other plant exhibitor, from time-to-time sources seeds, from direct collection in the garden, within the country and abroad. On arrival the mystery begins. The seeds vary in size from as tiny as dust particles such as Begonias to exceptionally large ones at the other end of the scale. Some require special treatment before germination while others just require optimum conditions for germination.  Some will germinate, unfortunately, others won’t.

Once sown, then patience and anticipation are part and parcel of the wait. I do not want to dwell on the germination process but what happens after germination. The dawn of new plant begins with the appearance of the first leaves. At this stage, the seedling begins to photosynthesize. Imagine how this simple two leaf seedling works to internally coordinate itself to acquire all the resources it needs and fully exploit its potential to become whatever the growth form we admire flowers, foliage, trunks, fruits …”

Not germination, but here is Isaac at work in the nursery transplanting aloes.

Propagating the Doum palm

Introducing Omri, our latest horticultural intern. His first task was a tough one, as he explains!

“I’ve just started the internship and am already preparing to sow a special and interesting plant- Hyphaene thebaica, the Doum palm.

The Doum palm; Photo: Omri Bachrach

The Doum palm is a rare palm in Israel – it only grows in the very southern desert in a few places. This is the northern edge of its worldwide distribution, which spans from Africa to the Arabian peninsula.

It also has many traditional uses – its broad leaves are used to weave baskets, its timber is used for fibers and wood, and the ripe fruits are edible.

The main challenge of sowing the seeds was getting to them, as the fruit is full of very tough fibers.

It took me a few hours to cut and smash open the fruits.

Now they are soaking in water for three days and I will sow them tomorrow.”

From Jerusalem to Wisley

In this blog post, James Miller is going to share a growing collaboration between RHS Wisley and Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. He and the Wisley Alpine Team have been working on this little collaboration for the past three years.  James was a Curatorial Intern at JBG, back in 2015, from January to mid-May. Now he is a Horticulturalist (Horticultural Award) in the Alpine Team at RHS Garden, Wisley.

“The experience at JBG was really brilliant. I was based in the nursery and helped to look after some of the amazing plant collections, including the geophyte and the native annual collections. Geophyte is a broad bracket term used to describe a plant storage organ used to conserve water and nutrients; encompassing bulbs, tubers and corms, for example. The opportunity to make trips to see plants in the wild was really an invaluable experience and built my botanising skills greatly. The staff at JBG are very generous and involved me with many exciting cultural experiences as well as trips across Israel and Palestine at the weekends.

Over the past three years or so Ori Fragman Sapir, the Scientific Director at JBG has visited Wisley. He has given excellent informative talks to the staff and students, as well as kindly bringing seed with him. We have also been using the JBG Seed List (Index Seminum). Here at Wisley, we have managed to successfully grow several of these plants from JBG seed. From the first batch of seed in 2017, the annuals were the first to flower; the blue lupin, Lupinus pilosus (this lupin is called Lupinus digitatus by the RHS) and the campion, Silene palaestina. These plants proved useful in Alpine Display and the Rock Garden. These annuals flowered in their first spring, in the summer, the perennial Salvia bracteata and Salvia palaestina bloomed. The Salvia palaestina, delighted many people, with its masses of white flowers, which to my nose, had an aroma of lime cordial. I used the S. bracteata on the RHS Diploma student identification test in 2019.


Pictures from left to right:  Lupinus pilosus (Lupinus digitatus) growing at Wisley, James Miller working in the Alpine House at Wisley, Salvia palaestina also growing at Wisley

Bellevalia webbiana, flowering for the first time at Wisley, April 2020

Bellevalia webiana flowering for the first time at Wisley

Geophytes have also been very successful, with a very high germination rate. Some of the first bulbs to germinate were Bellevalia desertorum and B. webbiana back in 2017 B. desertorum requires a very dry dormancy, as it is from very arid environments; so we find it wants to go dormant earlier than many of the other bulbs, in Asparagaceae, hyacinth or asparagus family bulb collection here at Wisley. Excitingly, B. webbiana has flowered for the first time this year in April.

Gagea chlorantha, was one of the first geophytes grown from JBG seed to bloom. Its cheery bright yellow star shaped flowers close up at night and open again after sunrise. We have found that G. chlorantha is an excellent plant for Alpine Display, as it has spent approximately six weeks in display each year, for the last two winters. Several Colchicum species, have germinated, including Colchicum hierosolymitanum and C. stevenii. Interestingly, the species name ‘hierosolymitanum’ means pertaining to Jerusalem, coming from the Latin name for the city; Hierosolyma. Other geophytes germinated from JBG include; Sternbergia Clusiana, Pancratium maritimum, P sickenbergeri and various alliums, including the showy Allium tel-avivense, A. israeliticum and the striking blue A. hierochuntinum.

I am very excited about seeing the irises which we have grown from seed flower.  They include Iris grant-duffii, which is doing growing very well in sand plunges. Iris grant-duffii, likes to be kept very damp, when actively growing, as it is from seasonally marginal or wet areas, which dry up in the summer months. The reticulate Iris, Iris vartanii and the Oncocyclus iris, Iris atropurpurea germinated in 2019 and are particularly exciting prospects. If you would like to follow the seeds’ progress, you are more than welcome to follow my new professional Instagram account @miller_jamesm, my blog called My Wardian Case or look out for one of my plant society talks.”

Spring is here

This week’s ‘Voice from the Gardens’ comes from our nursery-propagation intern, Steve:
“Spring is finally here in Jerusalem. The almond trees have begun to flower, the anemones are in full bloom in the fields, and the lupines are shooting up their flower buds at the botanic garden. We’ve nearly finished sowing our seeds, and many plants have been pricked out and potted on, waiting to flower and collect their seed. We spent a few days clearing and cleaning a space next to the nursery to display all the rare and endangered plants together. We’ve also started cleaning and planting the rare plant display beds in the garden.

IMG_6152 rare plant collection at jbg_sz

The rare plant collection in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. Photo: S Zelno

As the urgency to sow, prick out and pot on has subsided, I’ve been able to help in other parts of the garden. I’ve continued to curate and label the geophytes collection, as well as help with a large cutting project in the nursery. This month I’ve also had the opportunity to work in the tropical conservatory, helping build a green wall on tropical ferns and begonias.
Best of all, I’ve had the chance for several trips to see plants in the wild. I’ve taken two trips with the Friends group here at the Gardens to see the wild anemones and other spring flowers like Iris palaestina as well as two trips with Dr. Ori— one to see wild flowers blooming in the desert and another to see the black Iris atropurpurea on the coast outside Jaffa. Both were unbelievable sights.
Looking forward to more mild weather and spring blooms.

IMG_5981 anemones _sz feb19

Anemones flowering in the countryside.  Photo:  S Zelno

IMG_6204 iris altropurpurea _sz jan19

Iris atropurpurea  Photo:  S. Zelno

From wadi to wadi

Our curatorial intern, Rachel writes:  “These are from a trip to the Dead Sea with Ori (Scientific Director) late last year.  Our first stop was just outside Jerusalem to do some seed collection.  As we moved towards the Dead Sea, we stopped and looked for interesting plants in several different wadis.  The progression from small wadis to larger ones allowed for even large trees to grow like Ziziphus spina-christi.”

Sowing rare plants

From Steve, one of the propagation-nursery interns sponsored by the Friends:
My first month at the Jerusalem Botanic Garden has flown by. Now that I’ve got familiar with the day-to-day in the nursery, I’ve started to make progress with Almog, my Israeli co-worker in the Rare Plants Project. Together we have sown over two hundred rare or endangered plants of Israel. Now starts the big task of pricking out, potting up and waiting to collect seeds.


Photo:  S Zelno

I’ve also been given the opportunity to do some curatorial work with the Gardens’ Geophytes collection— a passion of mine that I expressed interest in working with. Together with the curators, I am working on creating new labels and indexing almost the entire collection— a great way to learn some new plants.
I’ve also joined the English-speaking garden club. Every Thursday morning we meet for a lecture, activity, or field trip. Last Thursday we traveled to the outskirts of Ein Kerem to see a traditionally-run orchard of heirloom fruit and olive trees on ancient terraces. It was great to step out of the garden and see millennial-old cultural landscapes still preserved.


Ein Kerem terraces.  Photo:  S. Zelno

Looking forward to what my second month brings.

Settling in at the JBG

Welcome to Steve, our propagation scholar from the USA.  Steve arrived in Jerusalem in December and here is his first blog.

My first week at the Jerusalem Botanic Garden has flown by. A lot of time has been spent settling into my new job and adjusting to life in Israel. I’ve met nearly the entire garden staff at the JBG and am slowly coming up to speed with the work.
I’ve been paired with an Israeli intern to work on an endangered plant propagation project. Over the next six months I will help sow, grow, and collect seeds of rare and endangered plants of Israel.

Along with nursery work, I’ve gotten the chance to take a tour with the Garden’s Scientific Director, Ori Fragman-Sapir and tag along with his Hebrew University class to do field botany in the Dead Sea. The chance to see unique and rare plants in the wild and then try my hand at propagating them in the greenhouses will be the highlight and focus of my time in Israel.

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