Experts: State's 'Water-efficient' Plants Harm Nature

Environmentalists are demanding the Agriculture Ministry immediately remove a number of invasive species from a list of water-efficient plants it has circulated among local authorities.

Ecologist Jean-Marc Dufour-Dror said many of the foreign plants on the list are causing serious damage to Israel's natural habitats by out-competing local species.

Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University, Dufour-Dror called for the removal of a number of species, including the coojong tree, which is considered among the most harmful to local fauna. The plant, also known as the golden wreath wattle or Western Australian golden wattle, has spread across large swaths of Israel's coastal dunes and in some places has completely replaced the native species.

The ecologist also mentioned the harm caused by the so-called tree-of-heaven, which was brought from China. It has adapted well to the local climate and is now found throughout the hills surrounding Jerusalem. The species is particularly harmful to native flora because its bushy foliage obscures sunlight from its surroundings. In addition, the tree releases chemicals which prevent the sprouting of other plants in the vicinity. Dufour-Dror warned that another species on the list, the pigface plant, is growing "out of control" in the Sharon region.

"The list of water-efficient plants was compiled by the Agriculture Ministry with the help of the Environmental Protection Ministry," a spokesman for the ministry said. "The list was intended to promote more controlled watering habits and save water. It is not a recommendation of any kind. On the matter of the invasive species, the issue is being debated by both ministries."

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Ministry said his bureau is demanding the invasive species be removed from the list immediately. "Soon we will have a meeting on the issue with the Agriculture Ministry officials," he said.