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.
Foster, Prof. Michael (3 May 1892). “Bulbous Irises”. (A Lecture
delivered May 3, 1892 to the Royal Horticultural Society).
Dykes, William Rickatson. Iris Families You Ought To Know. Historic Iris Preservation Society.
 Spiegel, Frances. Vartan of Nazareth: Missionary and Medical Pioneer in the Nineteenth-century Middle East – a review.

What I do at the Gardens …

This week we hear again from Francisco, our propagation/nursery track scholar from Spain.  He’s been at the Gardens for two months.

This time I want to show my job in the Jerusalem Botanic Gardens, doing propagation of rare and endangered plants in Israel.

seed trays 1

This photo shows all the seed trays I have been sowing for the last 8 weeks.  I do most of the preparation myself, cutting the trays from the bottom of plastic pots, mixing coir, perlite & vermiculite as propagation media and cutting the labels.  I research information on the species, including habitat or previous germination rates on the IRIS botanical collections management program and whether the species was grown by other scholars.

Sometimes the seed bag is full of chaff, then I have to find 2-3 good seeds in there and ask the volunteers to find more of those in the bag.  Everything I do has to be registered on the IRIS program; every seed tray or pot has a label with a number on it as well as a Latin name, date of sowing, special treatments and so on.

seed trays 2

Sometimes the seeds are so big or do not like root disturbance, I sow those in plugs or cups (six-pack pots) as you can see in the photo above.

The photo below contains the plants already grown in cups after the potting up.  I am helped with this job by Dave, the Scholar from Australia, two days a week.  He also helps Lysa (the other Friends’ sponsored scholar) with the curation and care of the tropical plants in the quarantine glasshouse.

Seed trays 3

The bench (in the photo below) contains plants in bigger pots, some arrived recently into the collection, others were propagated by previous scholars.

rare seeds 4