More from Abby, one of our current scholars, about her recent expedition …
On March 12, I went with the JBG Garden Club on their botanizing expedition to Mount Gilboa (in the north of Israel, in Lower Galilee). We were seeking Iris haynei also known as the Gilboa Iris. Upon arrival to the base of the mountain, we scattered searching excitedly for orchis sp. and other interesting wildflowers. However, our guide Hagar did not allow us to wander far and she soon called us to climb the mountain. Following the trail, we descended first into a meadow before hiking up the winding track. The day was warm and overcast. The clouds blew swiftly across the grey sky, running before a swift breeze. It cooled our sweaty faces and made the trees sway gently. We were hiking through tall grass that was a vibrant green. Swathes of golden-yellow mustard plants ran in rivers through the oaks. A sweet floral smell filled the air, it was the wild Mustard. Birds sang gaily in the meadow and cows grazed lazily behind a fence. Watching for Iris among this idyllic scene was hard, I wanted to stop, relax,and enjoy this beautiful area!
As we hiked upward, the meadow was left behind and the rocky summit appeared. Boulders became more apparent and pine trees began to dominate the landscape.Then I saw my first Iris haynei. This beautiful plant was clinging to life among the rocky slopes, its roots buried deep in a rock crevasse. After the initial sighting, I began to see many more of these lovely flowers. As we ascended, we soon began seeing hundreds if not a thousand Irises, some in clumps of 15 and 20, others flowering singly or in pairs. Vivid purple Irises were scattered everywhere on the mountain. The rich green of the trees, the tan rock, and the Gilboa Iris created a beautiful picture.
The plants varied dramatically by height, shape, and color. They ranged from 12 to 36 inches tall. The flower size varied as well. Some were only 3-4 inches across while others were bigger than the average hand! Some flowers were fragrant and smelled of jasmine, or (strangely) hot chocolate. Other flowers had no fragrance at all. The range of colors was breathtaking as well. All were striped and speckled in various patterns. Flowers in hues of brown and purple were in abundance, though I saw many that were a plain royal purple and others were simply delicate shades of pink. There was even one isolated patch that was nearly white accentuated by brown falls.
Meandering through this incredible landscape examining such wonderful wild specimens was exhilarating. I never thought that I would be able to see Iris in the wild. Yet here I was surrounded by these magnificent creations, on a beautiful mountain in the lovely land of Israel.
Shalom from Mount Gilboa!