Israeli Researchers Identify New Plant Species Unique to Judean Hills, and It's Already Endangered

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Allium judaeum, the new species discovered in the Judean Hills. It is the 15th species belonging to the genus Allium.
Allium judaeum, the new species discovered in the Judean Hills. Credit: Ori Fragman-Sapir

Israeli researchers have discovered a new species of plant in the Judean Hills, one found only there at three sites, so it can be classified as an endangered species worldwide.

Only a few plants are growing at each of the sites, which are at-risk areas because of human activity like excavation and construction and thus could lead to the plant’s extinction.

The plant is the 15th species belonging to the genus Allium, which contains species originally from Israel and neighboring countries and includes edible species such as garlic, onion and chives. The new species has been named Allium judaeum.

Behind the discovery are two botanists, Dar Ben-Natan of the Open Landscape Institute, which operates at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University, and Ori Fragman-Sapir of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in Givat Ram.

Allium judaeumCredit: Ori Fragman-Sapir

The two published their findings last week in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, published by the London-based Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Allium judaeum was found during surveys by the Steinhardt Museum and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel in the South Hebron Hills and in Gush Etzion in the West Bank in 2018 and 2019.

The plant blooms in late spring and is similar on the outside to several local members of the genus Allium, among them the sand leek and Artemisia garlic. The new species grows in areas dominated by the spiny burnet bush in places like Gush Etzion and the ridges east of Beit Shemesh.

In contrast, the sand leek is found to the north in regions such as the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, mainly on the edges of thickets. In general, the plants from the genus Allium native to this region grow both in desert areas and in the northern Mediterranean.

The two botanists describe Allium judaeum’s distinct features, including an ovoid, pointed umbel – a group of flower stalks spreading from a common point – white flowers and a green stripe along the keel.

Some of the plants have been transferred to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, where they can be seen during the flowering season.

Israel is home to around 411 endangered species, some of which only survive in isolated sites. Many of them are unique to one geographic region, so it is vital to conserve them.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority estimates that over 70 sites don't have protected status – like nature reserves or national parks – and some contain endangered plants.

Despite Israel’s small size, it has a rich variety of wild plants that are continually being discovered during nature surveys.

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