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.

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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).

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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.

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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.