Tag Archives: Arava

Desert Wildflowers

If you are going to be in the south of Israel, there is a nice hike from the Timna valley through Nahal Mangan climbing onto the Milhan ridge; from there you can descend and camp at the Milhan well. This area gets less than 100mm of rain per year but in March, we saw a lot of plants in bloom for a desert.

The Silon Kotzani (Zilla spinosa) is a perennial but only lives a couple of years dying from drought or flash floods. The plant grows into a sphere of stems and thorns that is typical of thorny plants in the desert. The peak of its flowering is March, afterwards it dries up. The small purple flowers are edible and have a mild cabbage taste. When dry the stems of the bush can be used as kindling to start your campfire.

The White Broom, Rotem HaMidbar (Retama raetam) was blossoming, bunches of small, delicate white flowers. This is the bush under which the prophet Elijah sat.

But he went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom-bush. Kings I 19, 4

The Broomrape, Yahnuk HaMidbar (Cistanche tubulosa) is a parasite that grows on and gets its nourishment from the roots of other plants. There are no leaves, just a spike of yellow flowers.

Parosheet Galonit (Pulicaria desertorum) is a low-lying plant with yellow flowers that grows in desert areas. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea, the plant has a pleasant scent.

Lotus HaMidbar, Desert Lotus (Lotus lanuginosus) is a low-lying perennial with small red flowers that grows in desert areas.

Fagonia Rakah (Fagonia mollis) is one of the typical and most widespread plants that grows in the desert.

For other posts about wildflowers click on “Wildflowers”  under Categories in the right hand column or https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/wildflowers/

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Israel Trail Encounter

The Israel Trail or Shvil Yisrael is a national hiking trail inaugurated in 1994 that zigzags the entire country from Tel Dan in the north near the Lebanese border to the southernmost tip of Israel at the Red Sea, approximately 940 km. You may have seen sections of the trail on other hikes (the Israel Trail was created by connecting some of the existing, favorite hiking trails), for example, if you’ve visited the Small Makhtesh from the western lookout point the trail descends and crosses to the mouth of the makhtesh and then north via Maale Hatzera. You can recognize the trail by its 3 colored stripes, white (signifying the snow on Mount Hermon, north), blue and orange (like sand or south to Eilat).

I have Zvi Gilat’s excellent guidebook to the Israel Trail in Hebrew; there is one guide book, Israel National Trail by Jacob Saar, including topographical maps in English. The official website is at http://www.israelnationaltrail.com/ which includes a forum that enables you to connect with other hikers to discuss the trail.

I just got back from 8 days hiking on the southern part of the trail from the border crossing with Egypt at Taba to Shaharut in the Negev (incommunicado with the outside world, walking the desert landscape – which is why there was no blog post). Walking for a number of hours through a narrow canyon, climbing a ridge or mountain for a 360 degree view of your surroundings and watching the changing forms of the sandstone cliffs as you hike by is a different experience than driving up to a site by car.

The trail lets you experience nature throughout Israel with the opportunity to relate to the history of the country. I joined the annual Avi B’shvil Yisrael, an incredible project that brings together a third component, encounter with Israelis from throughout the country, young and old, religious and secular. There is a daily group discussion about the significance of kibbutz and an evening guest who talks about his/her experience related to kibbutz (the subject being examined this year). They also handle a lot of the logistics, you can pay 10NIS for fresh fruit, vegetables and bread to have for lunch and 10NIS for a communal dinner, the organizers ensure that there is enough water for the next day, provide a guide and arrange transportation (back to where you left your car, car pooling or a main road where you can get a bus). They are hiking the Israel Trail until Thursday, April 28, 2011 when they reach She’ar Yeshuv so if you can find the time, check out the itinerary at http://www.avi-beshvil-israel.org.il/luz.php and join them. I strongly recommend it.

The project is in memory of Avi Ofner and 72 other soldiers who died on February 4, 1997 when two IDF Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters collided in midair over She’ar Yashuv. The helicopters were hovering waiting for clearance to cross the border into Israel’s “security zone” in Lebanon.

For recommendation on some dozen other hikes, click on “Hiking” under Categories in the right hand column or https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/hiking/

Judean palm

The scientific name of the Judean palm Phoenix dactylifera refers to its remarkable ability to grow again and even fruit after near death due to drought.

The Judean palm was endemic to Israel. It is the one referred to when the palm tree is mentioned in the Bible and Koran and appears in Roman writing, referring to its medicinal properties, and is pictured on various coins. This would imply as well that the lulav or palm frond used for the Four Species (Arba’at HaMinim) on the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) would be the branches of the Judean palm. Looking at the barren landscape of the Judean desert it is hard to imagine this area covered by palm forests.

Along Dead Sea

The Judean palm, like the balsam plant that used to grow around Ein Gedi and Jericho, became extinct sometime after the Romans, around 500 CE. Today there are palm groves along the Dead Sea shore but these were all imported from the date groves of California or varieties smuggled to Israel from Iraq, Morocco and Egypt in the 1950s.

In 1973, during the archaeological excavations of King Herod’s palace on Masada, Ehud Netzer who was the architect  working with Yigal Yadin found some dry date pits. He passed them along to botanical archaeologist Mordechai Kislev at Bar Ilan where they sat in a lab drawer for more than 20 years. Then in 2004 the seeds were rediscovered by Sarah Sallon of the Natural Medicine Research Center who passed them to Elaine Solloway at the NMRC cultivation site on Kibbutz Ketura to try to germinate them. A small specimen of pit was checked and independent carbon dating indicated the seeds are 2000 years old.

First Solloway soaked the seeds in hot water to make them once again able to absorb liquids. Then she soaked them in a solution of nutrients followed by an enzymatic fertilizer made from seaweed. On the auspicious date of the 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat, the Jewish new year of trees, the date pits were planted.

Amazingly, one of the seeds sprouted. It is now about 40 months old, 1.2 meters high with a half dozen leaves. The sex of the sapling is still unknown (date palms are either male or female), but the researchers are hoping for a female, which would bear fruit.

Phoenix dactylifera growing after 2000 years.


UPDATE: An article in the Jerusalem Post reports that the Judean palm (grown from the 2000 year old seed from Masada) that has been growing in a greenhouse at Kibbutz Ketura is now 2.5 meters tall and in a ceremony on Thursday, Tu Bishvat (the Jewish New Year of trees) was transplanted to Israeli soil.

The palm bloomed in April 2011, just past it’s 5th birthday – it’s male.

  • Frankincense comes home for Christmas (blogs.timesofisrael.com) – Soloway has successfully grown frankincense from seed at Kibbutz Ketura, another native plant extinct here for over 1500 years.