A plant that had been thought extinct in Israel for over a decade was discovered alive and well this week in Hof Hacarmel.
Linum maritimum had vanished from many areas where it was found in the past due to encroaching construction. But on Tuesday, as part of a multiyear survey to discover plant species at risk of extinction, botanists discovered hundreds of specimens of the flower near Moshav Dor, located in the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council.
The botanists think the generous rainfall of the past winter caused an unusually large number of the plants to flower, and that is why they spotted it this year when they hadn’t seen it in previous years. The botanical survey was commissioned by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Linum maritimum is common in several Mediterranean countries, and in the past, it could be found in several of Israel’s lonelier coastal areas. It is generally found near water sources, like ponds, streams or even groundwater that is near the surface.
It was first spotted in Israel several decades ago by Hava Lahav of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. But as development increasingly encroached on the flower’s habitats, it disappeared from places like the Acre Valley. And for the past 11 years, no specimens had been spotted in the wild at all.
In an effort to return it to the wild, Dotan Rotem, an ecologist from the nature authority, began gathering Linum maritimum seeds and growing them in a protected area. Sprouts from those plants were then sowed several times in the Dor Habonim nature reserve along the Mediterranean coast. But all those efforts failed; the sprouts were unable to survive in nature – or at least, so botanists thought until this week.
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This week’s discovery demonstrates the importance of a detailed botanical survey, even in a country as small as Israel. The current survey was started in 2013 at the nature authority’s behest. It is being carried out by the Open Landscape Institute, with additional funding from the Landmarks heritage fund, and is slated to continue indefinitely, with the goal of monitoring what is happening to Israel’s flora.
Aside from the recent discovery of Linum maritimum, the survey has also discovered several other rare plants. For instance, it found Ononis variegata, a plant that hadn’t been seen in Israel for years, along the coast.
A less happy discovery was that Astragalus fruticosus Forssk had disappeared from the only place where it still remained, in the southern section of the coastal plain. It was driven out by an invasive species called camphorweed.
Neither Linum maritimum nor Ononis variegata is currently on the list of protected species, and the former isn’t even growing in a nature reserve. Consequently, both species are vulnerable to harm. The nature authority wants to add them to the protected list, but the updated list is still awaiting the environmental protection minister’s signature.