Ecologists Struggle to Find New Homes for Israel’s Rare Wild Plants

Extensive construction across the country threatens the habitat of many plants found only in Israel.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
A flower of the species Romulea that is native to Israel.
A flower of the species Romulea that is native to Israel.Credit: Zeev Koller
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has initiated a methodical effort to find alternative hothouses for many wild plants in Israel.

The plants’ natural habitats — which exist nowhere else in the world and were granted the status of protected value of nature — are shrinking in the wake of extensive construction across the country.

Officials in the authority say they would rather relocate the plants to other nature reserves, but botanical gardens have also started to accept several species of plants. Last week, for example, the botanical garden at Tel Aviv University received a delivery of romulea columnae, a rare species of iris, which was discovered in Hadera in a place designated for an industrial zone.

Parks authority officials were surprised to find the plant because it had only three known habitats, all over the Green Line. Botanical garden officials plan to plant flower bulbs of the species to create a seed for breeding.

According to the deputy director of the authority’s central region, Uri Naveh, the plant was also transferred to a few nature reserves in the Sharon. “Lately, we carried out a similar operation in the Modi’in region, too, which also have building plans, and we relocated other rare plants of the onosma gigantea variety,” said Naveh. “I regret that from year to year we are forced to identify endangered species in areas of over 15,000 dunams designated for building, and that’s just in the center.”

The nature and parks authority is conducting a study to document plant life in all areas designated for building in Israel. If they find endangered plants (called “red species”), they explore options for relocating them to other nature sites, with botanical gardens or the gene bank at the Volcani Center in Rehovot as alternatives. Still, the process is complicated and not always successful.

Last year ecologist Ron Frumkin conducted a study of the Ramat Kochav region, east of Afula, for a company planning to build a reservoir there. Frumkin discovered some rare plants, among them aklanna galilaea, which grows exclusively in Israel, and sticky vetchling, which is found only in the north and Druze Mountain in Syria. After the discovery, seeds and bulbs of the rare species were taken to the Kochav Hayarden nature reserve and other places.

School children from Kfar Hayarok have begun recently to pitch in to save the endangered plants. A nursery was established in Kfar Hayarok to receive rare plants collected in various locations, among them rumex aeroplaniformis, which is considered highly rare. It has been successfully replanted in several reserves along the coast.

The Israel Lands Administration, in partnership with the parks authority, has also begun efforts to save the expansive tracks of Israel Military Industries in Ramat Hasharon, where rare species of clover and yellow lupines grow, and tens of thousands of housing units are planned for the coming years.

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