New Plant Discovered in Israel – a Parasite With Impressive Bloom

The plant, Cistanche fissa, grows to a height of nearly half a meter and has prominent white flowers

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Cistanche fissa.
Cistanche fissa.Credit: Ori Fragman-Sapir
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Botanists in Israel occasionally discover new plants in the country, but usually they’re some kind of tiny growth or fungus or alga. The discovery of a rather large plant with an impressive bloom and that grows to a height or nearly half a meter is out of the ordinary, but that’s what researchers discovered for the first time in Israel in the form of a species of parasitic desert plant – a cistanche.

The cistanche had been known to exist as a genus of plant that exists elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond in Asia, but had never been found in Israel.

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Up to now, researchers had been aware of two other species of cistanche in the country. One is the desert bloomrape, which has prominent yellow flowers and might be familiar to hikers in the Negev and whose scientific name is Cistanche tubulosa. The other is the rarer broomrape, which goes by the scientific name Cistanche salsa.

About two years ago, researchers from the Open Landscape Institute in Tel Aviv, Dar Ben-Natan and Oren Hoffman, discovered a species of cistanche with white flowers. It was recently confirmed by botanists Ori Fragman-Sapir, Yedidia Shmuel and others as Cistanche fissa, or in Hebrew “yahnuk hatzamir.”

This parasitic plant strikes roots in a host plant and so far only one kind of bush has been discovered as a host. The flowers on the Cistanche fissa range in color from a creamy white to a light pink. They have been found in vary limited spots near Mitzpeh Ramon and Avdat in the Negev and are considered highly endangered.

Fragman-Sapir, who serves at the scientific director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and manages the Flora of Israel Online website, publicized the discovery on the website. He surmised that the exceptionally rainy winter that has just ended in Israel, including the Negev, helped the Cistanche fissa to thrive and also assisted researchers in confirming its existence in the country.

“It’s rather amazing that such a big plant was hiding right under our noses,” he remarked.

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