Dec 29, 2008

the happenings at the JBG and holidays in Jerusalem

Alot of things have been going on in the gardens as of late, especially alot of planting now that Smita had ended a few months ago. In the greenhouse\nursery, where I work three days a week, alot of seed sowing has been taking place. Alot of seeds have been put into cold stratification and trays of seed sowing have been taking place every day. Though we always associate beauty with the flowers when we think of plants, seeds are not really looked at in this way. When looking at so many seeds all the time, it is easy to become amazed with the range of differences they have, some exquisite, some non-descript but each unique.

Here is the mottled seedcoat of Sapium japonicum, which is a shrub\small tree from Japan. I'll never tire of seeing seeds opening up to push out through the soil to display the strength of its first growth, the cotyledons and first true set of leaves. They will always stop me in my tracks. This is Lupinus pilosus, a native plant to Israel with the most intense blue blooms that we are growing to add to the display section of the garden. Look at how cute and furry that foliage is, if it was a chld you would just want to pinch their cheeks... Here is Narcissus tazetta, in bloom at the gardens. This is what we were on the search for in the wild a few weeks earlier, but did not find due to the lack of rains. The only reason it is in bloom here is due to irrigation systems that are spread throughout the garden.
A display area in full bloom, providing nice color during a time of year I would normally associate with dormancy. It is a mix of Viola spp. and Mathiola incana.

This was a project that I first worked on upon arriving in the gardens, a retaining wall built into a dedicated area. It hasn't been open to the public for a few months so the concrete could set, and then so the turf would have time to fill out dense enought to withstand the traffic.
Agave parryi sending up some bloom spikes...
Which just make me hungry every time I go past them because they aways remind me of really large pieces of asparagus.

So spending the holidays here has been an exciting and eventful experience. On Christmas Day, I went to the post offiice where I received a package from my sister full of gifts and home made goodies from my family. Such a great way to start the day, a full fudge breakfast never hurt anyone once in a while right? Then I went to spend some time with another scholarship student in Bethlehem. It is in occupied territory so we had to go through checkpoints to get there even though it is only about 1\2 and hour away. This is the Church of the Nativity, which is where Jesus was born.

It was awe-inspiring inside, especially since there were parts that dated back to the Byzantine era.

There were alot of people there, and there was incense burning, candles lit, and a very exciting\emotional experience, especially to be able to do this on Christmas day.

This is the view of Bethlehm from the top of the hill that the Church of the Nativity was on. A magical moment, especially with the rainbow that arched it's way over the city.

This is Christmas in the Old City in Jerusalem.

And some hot spiced wine in the evening at the American Colony hotel. Christmas trees and Palm trees.....
One of my favorite memories of Jerusalem at this time of year was walking around in the evenings and seeing the beautiful menorahs all lit up and on display outside of every ones homes.
I wish everyone all the best, especially in the New Year, for peace and health , and may it be filled with friends and family in 2009....

Dec 13, 2008

Hunting for Narcissus in the Jerusalem Mountains

There are trips that are arranged at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens to go and look at wildflowers in their natural habitat and the purpose of this trip was to go and find Narcisssus up in the Jerusalem Mountains. So we hiked about a mile down the side of the mountain next to the old agricultural village of Matta. We did come across some Narcissus tazetta but they had already finished blooming. This is because it has been dry for a long time even though this is supposed to be the rainy season. If the rain had been here, the blooms would have lasted alot longer.

I was also told that you could always tell from a far enough distance where there is an old village (without being able to see the homes from afar......). It is because most of the trees of the Jerusalem Mountains are evergreen but the villages mostly planted deciduous trees around them for the shade that they provide in the hotter months. Here is the lovely tiny white Crocus hyemalis, the most common crocus in Israel, pushing it's way out of the forest floor. It is usually found growing in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub lands and is found in bloom anywhere from November to February.

The bloom itself is honey-scented and is insect pollinated.

Another bulb, or shall i say corm, that is out in full force is Cyclamen persicum.It is seen growing in so many different areas and happily reseeds itself in the smallest of places. Here it is growing in the crack of a rock.
Here at the bottom of the valley, a farmer has taken advantage of more farmable land. There was a 2 year old olive orchard that he was tending to.
While looking at the view, I was told to turn around and look at what was growing on a rocky outcrop. I was surprised to find a solitary bloom of an Iris. No other irises were found in the surrounding area.

Here is the lovely soft yellow bloom up close of Iris palaestina.

There was also Bellis sylvestris, called the Southern Daisy here, in bloom on the hillside. It is also commonly found in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub lands.
Though the blooms on most of the Bellis sylvestris were white there was a single bloom tinged with pink.

Just a little bit of the trees and shrubs of the mountainside.

Here is the large leafed Arum palaestinum, which has deep dark purple blooms in March and April.

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we found a natural spring, which then made this area an obvious choice for the farmer to plant crops on.Though these palms aren't native, we came across a whole grove of them growing in straight lines. It turned out that there was a nursery that was run here on this land a long time ago and for some reason these were left behind.
Right next to the palm grove was this inconspicuous shrub that was about 4-5' high. I couldn't figure out the name because in Israel you have the latin name (which nobody knew), the common name (which changes depending on where you live) and the hebrew name (which everyone knew).I liked it's greenish yellow banana shaped flowers and

it's deep purple seeds.

In another area we came across the transparent seedpod of a Ricotia lunaria.

Here is the acorn of the Palestine Oak, Quercus callaprinos, which is one of the top 3 Oaks that grow in Israel. The other two Oaks are Quercus infectoria and Quercus ithaburensis. There is a mouse that eats some of this seed which helps the Oak to germinate faster. The mouse knows that the cap on the right end is the easiest way to get inside, by pulling it off and once the cap is off, the mouse has it's reward, but not the whole reward. Inside, the right half of the seed, closest to the cap, is sweet and then halfway through, the side on the left, the seed becomes bitter. The mouse eats the sweet part, and stops at the bitter end which contains the seed embryo, this then allows the remaining seed to be free to germinate.

Dec 6, 2008

Seed Collecting Trip

A few of the scholarship recipients got the chance to go on a seed collecting trip with the head scientist of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden. We drove about 25 minutes east out of Jerusalem to the edge of the desert to collect seed of native plants. Something that amazes me every time, is how the depth and perception of the desert just throws off your sense of scale. Below, look on the left side of the photo, and about halfway up you'll see the the light gray hill sloping down to the right. See the line of black dots on the hill? That was a herd of goats, who are commonly brought out into the desert to graze. If you notice the other two hills to the right of the one that they are on, you can tell that the goats graze there too because there isn't as much vegetation as the surrounding hills. These goats are herded by the Bedwins, which is a nomadic Arabic population. What throws me off though is that i could hear, very clearly, the goats bleating and hear the bells they wear jingling, and thought they weren't too far away. When i looked up all i could see was what looked like little black ants inching their way across the desert, they were much further than anticipated. This is the area where we started, in total we went to 2 places to collect. We were looking for colchicum seeds that would've been blooming on the hillside, especially looking next to rocks. Unfortunately we did not come across any colchicums but found seed from other plants to collect. We collected from Oreganum syriacum, which is a common spice plant that is used throughout Israel called Za'tar. It is used in hummus, on pita bread, and has many other uses.

The sun light plays beautifully off the hills at times. When seed is collected, 2x the amount needed is collected and this is for germinating plants for the botanical garden itself and the rest is for seed trading with other botanical gardens worldwide.

Ori, the head scientist, explained to us that the desert soil is very salty due to the salts in the rain that collect in the topsoil. Some shrubs that grow here too increase the salinity underneath the soil to prevent competition from other plants. pretty sneaky.. Though most of the vegetation in the desert looks bleak, look on the bottom left of the photo and you'll see a lush green strip. This is where there is a higher concentration of water due to it being at the bottom of deep valley.

There are tiny settlements, or towns, like on the top left, that are dotted throughout these areas.
On the way towards the Dead Sea, where some plants we wanted seed from were growing, we passed these farms with all these palms planted in rows. These are date palms, Phoenix dactylifera, and it is a highly productive crop that is exported out of Israel.
So this was our next location, a crossroads right next to the Dead Sea where an area where native plants have been planted.
Though this plant isn't native, we collected from it anyway. It is called Calotropis procera, and is actually native to India. It is extremely poisonous and is used to make candle wicks. Here is it's flower which is small in terms to the full size of the shrub.
The fluffy seeds emerge to be carried away by the wind.
Future generations on the go..
This is what the seeds look like when they are still packed inside the seedpod, not yet ready to go out, all organized and awaiting their release.
It also gets attacked by aphids really bad.And here was Abutilon hirtum which was about 7' tall.
Sometimes your lucky and get to see the many different stages of life on a plant.Here is the flower bud,which opens to a yellow bloom,
then has a seed pod that is flat and ridged,
to eventually opening to a ray like seed pod.
Our last stop was purely for taking in the view, which made us feel very small.

Can you see what's here? This is the wild Ibek, which is a mountain goat that lives in the desert. They were walking in front of the car, and I have been looking forward to seeing them since i got here. There are about 7 in the photo above.

There were adult and young Ibek.

Seeing them was a treat, and since it was mating season, well....... you get it. They got busy, and we took that as our cue to head off...