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.

salvia bracteata after 2 months.jpg

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.