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

Botanical Garden Visits (2)

This is the second report on a recent visit by UK Friends Trustee, Aaron Bertelsen who works at Great Dixter together with two of their interns.  Here Stephen writes about his impressions of the JBG.

When I applied for the Christopher Lloyd Scholarship at Chanticleer and Great Dixter, all of my horticultural training had been in the northeast United States. I thought England was exotic with its winters just warm enough to grow another range of plants not hardy enough for New York. Like other Dixter students before me, I decided to use travel funds given by Chanticleer to visit botanic gardens in Israel and observe plants in the wild. A completely different climate and plant palate in Israel opened my eyes to a new type of gardening.

Our tour of the Jerusalem Botanic Garden was led by Aaron Bertelsen, a co-worker at Great Dixter and a Trustee of the UK Friends of the Gardens (and an alumnus of the Internship program)  and Brandon George, a current intern at the Gardens, from America.

jbg image by stephen

Like other botanic gardens, the JBG was organized into geographic regions and biomes. Their mild winters allowed for plants impossible to grow outdoors in more temperate botanic gardens. Species normally regulated to pot culture and glass houses in the US and England were blooming in the ground in sizes and masses I’ve never seen before. I learned new genera and even recognized some plants from my own American biome surviving in Israel’s climate. Brandon was also able to give us a back-of-house tour, showing us his work propagating rare Mediterranean plants in the nursery and giving us a sneak peak into the newly-extended Conservatory.

Our trip to Israel wouldn’t have been complete without exploring Jerusalem. Luckily the Botanic Garden is easily accessible from the center of the city. We were able to visit the religious and historic sites, fill ourselves on great food, and explore the Shuk and other markets. The city was as diverse, in people, places, and culture, as its plants. I hope to return soon.

To apply for a horticultural scholarship at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, go to www.friendsjbg.org.uk, read the details and download an application form.

Botanical Garden visits (1)

Recently one of our Trustees, Aaron Bertelsen who works at Great Dixter, travelled to Israel with two of their interns.  Here’s what Henry wrote …

Spending a year as the scholar at Great Dixter gardens has presented me with a wealth of opportunities, but none have filled me with as much excitement and will live as long in the memory as our recent trip to Israel.

A landscape with an unrivalled catalogue of native flora; as diverse and rich as the cultures and communities that inhabit it. From inner city courtyard gardens brimming with colour, botanical gardens of international acclaim to fields of Echinops on the shores of the Galilee. Our few days was always never going to be enough!

Perched quietly amidst the arid Negev desert, a biblical setting overlooking the Dead Sea, sits the oasis of the Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens. A Kibbutz of magical quality, lovingly tended by the community that created it. Seldom does one visit a garden of such impact and contrast. With a mouth-watering array of species, fed by the mineral rich soils, irrigated by a natural spring and inhabited by its custodians, made this a stand out highlight and a must visit.


No horticultural trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to the JBG. Found in the heart of the city, it is a wonderful and easily accessible resource for the community. We were fortunate enough to have a behind the scenes tour from a current intern. What a privilege it was to see the workings of the nursery and to hear the passion and expertise of the staff we met. Finishing touches were being made to the Tropical Conservatory which I cannot wait to return and see.

I was once told ‘when you find a place you love, always leave something to come back for.’ Whether by design or consequence there will always be endless things for me to come back for.

Many thanks for the generosity and warmth we received from all who we met but mostly to my dear friend, colleague, JBG Trustee and inimitable guide Aaron Bertelsen for making it such an unforgettable and exciting trip.

Seed collecting from our rare plants

Brandon, our current propagation intern, writes about his current work …

Having worked at the Jerusalem Botanical Garden for over three months, I can now say that I have settled in. What I do day-to-day varies slightly but currently my job is primarily seed collecting.

One of the greatest aspects of managing the rare plant collection is ensuring that plants propagated from either seed or a vegetative state live long enough to produce viable seed. As most native Israeli plants are annuals, most of our plants here at the nursery begin growing or are planted in the autumn or winter when the rainy season begins and then by the end of Spring, when the temperatures increase and rain becomes more sporadic, plants are triggered into senescing. This natural cycle dictates what work needs to be done at the nursery and when.

Below is a perennial, Salvia multicaulis that I have collected seed from today. This Salvia, native to Israel is extremely rare, being found only in the Judean Mountains.

salvia multica

At the flowering stage with violet-blue flowers (photo Brandon George)

salvia multicaulis 2

When the flowers fall off, the bracts remain on the flowering stem and it is within these bracts that the seed develops (photo Brandon George)

salvia multicaulis seeds

Each single bract contains only one seed (photo Brandon George)

Each single bract contains only one seed (from what I have seen so far collecting them) which makes the collecting process for this plant a bit time-consuming. Fortunately, here at the Gardens, we have a fantastic group of volunteers who clean and store seeds, making my job as an intern much easier.