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...