Rare Flower Spotted in Tel Aviv for First Time in Nine Decades

Discovery of maresia nana points up presence of endangered plants in cities.

Maresia nana
Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir

The rare plant called maresia nana has been spotted in Tel Aviv, after not having been seen there for some 90 years.

The small, annually-blooming plant with its tiny pink flowers has survived in only a few spots in Israel, and its discovery shows there is still a chance to find rare plants even in urban centers, which may end up being the last refuge for some endangered species. A recent study in Australia found that 30 percent of plants on the verge of extinction are found within city limits.

In Israel, maresia nana grew only along the coastal plain. It is considered an endangered species since it has survived in only a few locations, primarily in the sand dunes of Holon and Rishon Letzion. It had not been documented in Tel Aviv since the 1920s; those areas where they’d been spotted have long since been built over.

The sighting of the plant was reported last week in the Israeli plant journal Kalanit. It was identified by Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir, scientific director of the Hebrew University Botanical Gardens in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram. Participants in a gardening course being given at the botanical gardens were touring the municipal gardens of Tel Aviv, including a grove of trees in eastern Jaffa, near the local college. Several maresia nana plants were found among the trees.

The east Jaffa grove where the rare plant was discovered, December 2015.
Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir

Reporting on the find on Kalanit’s website, Fragman-Sapir said, “In contrast to the beautiful red-flowered species whose preservation is easy to explain to the public, it’s hard to give reasons for protecting such a small and unimpressive plant that has no clear importance. But one must remember that the reason for preservation is not just the species’ attractiveness to man, but because the species is part of Israel’s natural flora and its biodiversity.”

He suggested that empty lots and gardens in south Tel Aviv be searched for other places where the plant might be found.

The discovery of the maresia nana illustrates the need to preserve nature spots in urban areas. In recent years, another species near extinction, the low thistle (centaurea pumilio), a rare sand-based plant, was found on a cliff near the Hilton beach.

Last week the periodical Global Change and Biogeography published a study led by researchers from the University of Melbourne that showed some 30 percent of species at risk of extinction can be found within cities; at times, the cities are the only place they are found.