Tag Archives: Wildflowers

Sternbergia on my mind

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.

Hiking Nahal Mikhmas

On Monday we drove out of Jerusalem on highway 437 past Pisgat Zeev to get to the starting point of our hike in the northern Judean desert. On the way, about 5km north of Jerusalem on the left along the watershed ridge at 839m above sea level is Gibeah (of Saul) or Givat Shaul usually pointed out as the location, Tel el-Ful, where King Hussein of Jordan began construction of his Royal Palace in the 1960s.

The site has a number of important Biblical/historical references:

• The Concubine of Gibeah, and the ensuing Battle of Gibeah between the Israelite tribes against Benjamin (Judges 19-21)

• Israel’s first king, Saul, reigned from Gibeah for 38 years (1 Samuel 8-31)

• Prophetic mention during the period of the Divided Kingdom (Hosea 5:8, 9:9, 10:9; Isaiah 10:29)

• The encampment of the 10th Roman Legion in their assault on Jerusalem in 70CE (Josephus, War of the Jews)

Just before we arrived at our destination on the right we passed another site, Qubur Bani Israel (Tombs of Children of Israel), 4 large narrow rectangular walled structures measuring 15 by 3 meters which rise from a rocky plateau overlooking Wadi Qelt. The megaliths still have two or three rows of gigantic, rough-hewn stones carefully in place. The name refers to the site being an ancient Jewish burial ground in the territory of Benjamin; archaeologists estimate the date as 2000BCE. A theory proposed by Noga Reuveni (who also established the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim) is that in fact this site marks the tomb of Rachel who was buried “on the road to Efrat, now Bet Lehem (Bereishit 35:19)”. There is a city Farah settled near the spring Ein Farah that is mentioned among the cities of Binyamin (Joshua 18:23) and it is not unreasonable to posit that it was alternatively called Efrat (same Hebrew root). Since the city was in an area of wheat and barley, it was later renamed (like other cities) Bet Lehem. This also matches the description to Saul before his return home to Gibeah.

When you leave me today, you will meet two men near the tomb of Rachel in the territory of Benjamin (1 Sam. 10:2)

This should have been a clue that this was not going to be just a nature hike.

We started hiking from Geva Binyamin, also called Adam. Because the area is in Judea and Shomron/the West Bank we had to arrange clearance with the army and get the security officer to open the gate from the settlement. Geva Binyamin was founded in 1984 and in 2007 had a population of 3500 people. It sits between the Arab towns of Jabah and Mikhmus that recall the towns of Geva and Mikhmas mentioned in the Bible.

Open a TaNaKh and read 1 Samuel, chapters 13 and 14 for the account of the battle between King Saul and his son Jonathan against the Philistines. The Israelite forces are camped at Geva and the Philistines are on Mikhmas with the wadi separating them. Jonathan sneaks out of the camp at night and hidden by the deep walls of the canyon makes his way to the Philistine garrison… We were standing on the ridge reading the account of the battle, overlooking the area where it took place.

The black trail follows the ridge above Nahal Mikhmas. Hidden among a pile of rocks is the spring of Ein Suweinit. Many caves can be seen and we stopped at two of them, El-Jai is one of the largest in the Shomron.

From there we descended the steep cliff to the nahal, actually quite challenging because of the slippery rocks and mud.

Because of the rains we saw two flowers, the tiny purple Grape Hyacinth, in Hebrew, Kadan and bunches of white Desert Bulbs, Bezalziya.

Dark Grape Hyacinth (Muscari commutatum), also bulb, cluster of tiny flowers like jugs that hang upside down to protect the pollen from rain.

A rosette of grey-green leaves emerges before the flowers, 6 petals with a stamen on each, blooms for 5-6 weeks which is long for bulbs, grows among rocks to protect the bulbs from being dug up by porcupines and other animals.

Where Nahal Mikhmas joins Wadi Qelt the trail changes to red and we followed it to the left/east to Ein Mabu’a/Ein Fawwar. This spring is an artesian or karstic fountain, which flows from a cave into a round concrete pool built by the British in the 1920s. Until the Six Day War, the water was pumped to East Jerusalem, but today it is no longer used. In the Second Temple period an aqueduct brought water to the fortress at Cypros and there is a mosaic floor from a Byzantine church. If mosaics interest you then visit the nearby museum at Inn of the Good Samaritan.

Hiking Israel

Hiking throughout Israel is a national pastime – youth groups, the scouts, the army connect to the Biblical land with their feet. School classes have a tiyul shnati, an annual hike. Many young people who have just finished their army service reconnect with friends by hiking together on Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail, a 945 km trail that crisscrosses Israel, from Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. There is also a Golan trail, a Jerusalem trail, the Jesus/Gospel trail, a hike Sea to Sea from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. If you want to really experience and understand Israel you should take to the trails. Hiking takes you off the beaten track and besides the beauty of nature you will often come across archaeological ruins from thousands of years ago. If you don’t have a lot of experience hiking in Israel it’s recommended you hire a guide. Besides guiding you on the trail I can suggest what to bring, help with logistics, transportation and explain the nature and history and archaeology on the hike.

Israel is a small country which means you don’t have to travel far to start your hike. But although small in size there is incredible diversity so there are many different hiking experiences. Living in Jerusalem I know some hikes that are very close by, for example shvil hamayanot a trail that takes you to natural springs and pools that are particular to the hills of Jerusalem. A hike in Nahal Katlav (a nahal or wadi is a dry stream or river bed) in December is an opportunity to see wildflowers like crocus blooming after the first winter rains.

Jerusalem is a great base for day hikes because of its location in the hills and on the edge of the Judean desert and only a half hour drive to the northern edge of the Dead Sea. For starters I’d recommend hiking Nahal Og, desert landscape, narrow canyon, iron rung ladders – a really classic Israeli hike. Nearby is Wadi Qelt with a hike that takes you to a monastery hanging on the cliff. There are two wadis at the Ein Gedi reserve, Nahal David is the one most people hike and Nahal Arugot; you can choose trails, from 20 minute family hikes to challenging 4-6 hour hikes that will take you to pools and waterfalls in the middle of the desert.

If you are planning to be farther south there is hiking at Mount Sodom, a salt mountain or try a night hike by the light of the full moon in Nahal Peratzim. The Negev south of Beersheva is another desert with its canyons, mountains and springs to explore. Unique to the Negev is a geological phenomenon called the makhtesh or erosion crater that should not be missed. Probably the most picturesque hike in Israel is a short hike that is appropriate for the whole family not far from Eilat called the Red Canyon where erosion has sculpted the red and orange sandstone cliffs.

In the north of Israel there is a hike in the Mount Arbel reserve, where you descend the steep cliffs and then climb back up with great views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan. Just a little farther north is the Nahal Yehudia reserve with a whole variety of hikes, Meshushim (hexagonal basalt) pool, Nahal Zavitan, Gamla.

For good hikers there are two hikes that are legendary, in the north it is Nahal Yehudia and in the south Nahal Dragot. If you want to test your mettle against the real Israeli experience, these are the hikes. For recommendation on some dozen other hikes, click on this link https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/hiking/

Wind Turbines on Golan Trail

Whenever I spend some time on the Golan I am struck by its quiet expansiveness (compared to other parts of Israel). This time over the Passover holiday it was especially beautiful, everything was so green and the fields were covered with early wheat and wildflowers, poppy, lupine, asphodel, daisy, mustard, clover and some I had never seen.


The Golan trail is a 130km trail that snakes along from Mount Hermon in the north at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level to the Taufik spring above Hamat Gader. I went up to hike 3 days of the Golan Trail from Har Bental to Alonei HaBashan and from there to Faraj intersection. On the first day we could see the snow-capped Hermon to the north and the Sea of Galilee below us to the south.

Unfortunately the third day to Nahal Daliyot and Rujm el-Hiri was cancelled due to inclement weather. These couple of days hiking were the closing parenthesis of the 8 days I hiked from Eilat in March.

The Golan Trail goes by and then climbs a hill, the Bashan ridge on which 10 wind turbines, 30 meters high were installed in 1992. When I went by only 5 were working, producing about 3 megawatts of electricity that is used by the Mey Eden and Golan Heights winery and some 20,000 residents of the Golan in 32 settlements.

Plans have been in place for 150 new, larger wind turbines to be installed over an area of 140 square kilometers of the northern Golan that would cost about $500 million and produce 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the entire eastern Galilee. A company has been established to build a wind farm in the northern Golan, in the valley known as the Vale of Tears with investments in place amounting to some $120 million. The Golan has some of the strongest levels of wind energy in the entire region but there are problems. One is that such a large number of tall (80 meters high) wind turbines could be hazardous to the migratory birds that pass over the Golan in the thousands. Also, photovoltaic panels have become more efficient and less expensive. Individuals and companies can install the panels and the electric company buys the electricity generated at 4 times the current rate. So far, some 150 photovoltaic systems have been installed generating 7 megawatts of electricity with another 200 installations approved.

Golan landscape

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/

Wildflowers, after the rain

Shortly after the first autumn rains, a perennial called Steven’s meadow saffron (Colchicum steveni, סתונית היורה), with small, delicate pink flowers appears in the fields and woods. I don’t know who Steven is but in Hebrew some clever person called it Sitvanit from Stav meaning autumn and HaYoreh, the first rain.

Another flower that comes up at this time is crocus. These flowers are  Winter crocus (Crocus hyemalis, כרכם חרפי) and I saw bunches of them while hiking in Nahal Katlav just south of Jerusalem.

On the Golan, specifically Nahal Yehudia, I saw some narcissus (Narcissus tazetta, נרקיס) with white petals and yellow crowns and cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum, רקפת) already in bloom. I saw the leaves of lupines (Lupinus varius, תורמוס ההרים) just pushing out of the earth.

I was hiking under the ski lifts on the Hermon and found this flower, which I learned from my very knowledgeable colleague Zvi Bessin is Lotus Sweetjuice (Glaucium leiocarpum, פרגה קירחת). This perennial grows only in the area of the Hermon and is left over from the summer.

Also check out the post Wildflowers, before the rain.