At this time of year I can’t help noticing that the season is changing, we’re on the cusp from Israel’s hot and dry summer to cooler weather and autumn rains (I have even had to start wearing socks). Plants also notice this change. One small flowering plant, with bright yellow flowers (Sternbergia clusiana, חלמונית, from the same Hebrew root as egg yolk) has also noticed the change and pushes a small shoot up through the dry earth and using all its pent up energy blooms. If you know where to go you can see them. One place is the nahal, a dry stream bed, just down from Maale Rehavam, a small Jewish village established in 2001 on land belonging to Nokdim (another settlement in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank) tucked behind Herodium.
Though Sternbergia looks like crocus they belong to the daffodil family, and are not related to the saffron and crocus that bloom after the first rains. If you are interested in hiking to see and/or photograph wildflowers in Israel I would be happy to take you.
One of the things about taking a tour of Israel is that you get to see a lot in a small amount of space. Because Israel is located on the land bridge that connects Europe, Asia and Africa it has some of the best features of each. Although it only extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River in the Great African Rift Valley and from the Red Sea to mountains in the north it has a diversity of climates and habitats. These unique conditions are the main cause for the rich diversity of Israeli flora, more than 2500 species (compared to 1500 in the British Isles for example which is 10 times the size).
The Sea Squill (Urginea maritima, חצב מצוי) is a perennial of the lily family with a large poisonous bulb. The squill is one of ten species of plants called geophytes which bloom before the rains in Israel, in the driest part of the year and are a harbinger of winter. You’ll probably find the tall spikes of squill flowering by mid September. I saw some in Jerusalem while running along the tayelet, at the Museum HaTeva (Nature museum) and while hiking in the cliffs above Qumran.
You also won’t see the bright yellow Sternbergia (Sternbergia clusiana, חלמונית, from the same root as yolk of an egg) until just before the first autumn rains – don’t confuse them with the saffron and crocus that come after the first rains. Sternbergia belong to the daffodil family. This image was captured in November in the Yatir forest near Arad. On a hike we found Sternbergia growing in the wadi below Maale Rehavam near Herodium. I was touring in Ramat HaNegev and learned that there are Sternbergia in bloom in the wadi behind the Nahal Boker family farm. Moshe Zohar who lives there told me that this is the southern most point that they grow. I learned from a colleague who did a tour in the Golan that there are Sternbergia blooming below Har Hozek (conceivably the most northern point). If you are interested in touring Israel including hikes to see and/or photograph wildflowers please contact me.
You can check out these two excellent websites, that give you a lot of information about wildflowers in Israel:
In 1964 the Jewish National Fund planted tens of thousands of trees in the barren lands just south of the Hebron hills on the edge of the Negev. Today Yatir forest is the largest of Israel’s planted forests, including pine trees, carob and pistachio. In the spring, this is one of the areas where you can see the yellow, crocus-like Sternbergia flower blooming (another place is the wadi below Maale Rehavam, near the site of Herodium).
The area includes Jewish and Beduin settlements, a fine winery, vineyards, orchards, agricultural fittings from the 3rd and 4th C and the ruins of a synagogue at Hurvat Anime.
Yatir is just one of the JNF forests and recreational areas. Check their website at
Along the trails in the Yatir forest you will see ancient wine presses, cisterns and olive presses, evidence of settlement and wine and oil production 2500 years ago. Tel Arad, another archaeological site that goes back to the Chalcolithic period is nearby. On the upper hill is the only Judean temple discovered by archaeologists to date. The incense altars and two “standing stones” may have been dedicated to Yahweh and Asherah. The Yatir winery sits at the foot of Tel Arad and tours of the winery should be arranged in advance.