It’s actually still pretty early to be out botanising. Most plants in Israel are dormant in summer, then begin flowering from October onwards, and this year the flowering has been further delayed because it has been so dry, with the first major rain coming only last weekend. But, one of the perks we enjoy as JBG scholars is the opportunity to join the Friends of the JBG on monthly organised field trips. These trips are great opportunities to see other parts of Israel that we would struggle to reach by public transit, and to learn from different botanical guides. So, thanks to the generosity of the local chapter, Eric and I visited Hakedoshim Forest and Suba this past weekend. Though we knew we were unlikely to see large drifts of flowers, we anticipated that the hike through Hakedoshim Forest would be a great chance to see the first of the geophytes beginning to flower.
Sure enough, immediately after getting off the bus in the forest I spotted a small splash of vivid white nestled in the dead foliage of the last year’s annuals. This was the first time I had seen Crocus hyemalis; its rare in cultivation and is tender in the U.K. At the centre of the flower, the throat is golden yellow, which contrasts beautifully with the black anthers. This plant also has violet stripes on the inside of its petals, further amplifying the visual effect. The flower is relatively large but still manages to look delicate, clearly an auspicious start to the hike!
I admit, I did claim straight off that we wouldn’t see any large floral drifts on this trip, but this wasn’t strictly true. Colchicum stevenii is the geophyte of the month in Israel; carpets of it fill the park down the road from our flat, and the Hakedoshim Forest was exactly the same. I think I’ve seen it so much the last few weeks, I’m beginning to take it for granted. I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it though, as its dainty purple flowers are almost starry when fully opened and the light purple tones look great en masse.
Throughout the hike the ground was covered with Cyclamen persicum foliage, a sign of the display soon to come. Cyclamens are such a delicate flower that though they are common here, you can’t help but be moved by them. A few Cyclamen persicum were already flowering, but a slight breeze made them too difficult to photograph. No worries though, because soon the Cyclamen photographs will be flowing, this I know!
The name Cyclamen has a multi language origin. Derived from the Latin word “Cyclamnos,” which is in turn derived from the Greek word “Kuklaminos,” which means circular. This is a reference not to the plant’s flowers, but the tubers, which are round disks. Instead of forming lots of new bulbils like many geophytes, Cyclamen tubers expand over time. Tubers can reach the size of dinner plates over a hundred years or so. People talk of tubers being found the size of large serving trays and weighting several kilos, I’ve yet to see one this large myself.
As a side note: it is interesting that people often call binomial names “Botanical Latin.” The reality is that far more names have origins in Ancient Greek, either directly or, like Cyclamen, indirectly. This applies to many scientific terms as well. One of my favourite examples is the word parasite, hailing from the Ancient Greek word parasitos: “Person who eats at the table of another.”
Above is just a phone picture to show the Cyclamen persicum.
The final floral sighting of the day was Narcissus tazetta. A few clumps had started to flower at the end of the trail, just above the tree line. The delicate flowers are just half of the package here; by getting down on your knees and having a smell (something that does draw rather strange looks along busier trails), you will be immersed in its sweet perfume for a few precious seconds. This species has been bred to give the cultivar ‘Paperwhite,’ which, because of its scent and colour, is very popular in England, and is often forced inside before Christmas.
Before heading home, we had one more short walk to visit the old Arab village of Suba. Built on a hill called Tel Tzova, which rises to 769m, it sits prominently above the surrounding settlements. Tel Tzova originally had a crusader fortress built atop it, in around 1100, due to its strategic value. By 1225 the Arab village of Suba appears to be referenced in historical texts, indicating they had built over the crusader fortress.
Nowadays, Suba is a ruined village. It was destroyed in the 1948 Arab Israeli war to prevent the Arab army gaining control over several key roads to Jerusalem. Given its altitude relative to its surroundings, it boasts brilliant views, and it’s easy to see why it was so strategically valuable. I grabbed a few nice landscape photos from the top with some distant views of Jerusalem.