Tourist Tip #225 / Stop and Smell the Unique Israeli Flowers

It’s time to take a walk in the hills and tickle your aesthetic senses. This week’s wildflowers are heavy on purples and reds.

Nature is always changing. One way to appreciate its more subtle shifts is to observe the same setting week after week. You begin to catch on to her rhythm, noticing what is fading and what is beginning to bloom. The petals of winter’s cyclamen and anemone have long ago wilted. Spring is now on view in nature’s showcase.

One common flower out now is the Soft-Hairy Rockrose (lotem sa’eer), which grows on a meter-high shrub. Its five wrinkled purple petals stretch outward from a large yellow stamen. This rockrose often grows alongside its more staid brother, the Sage-Leaved Rockrose (lotem marvani). They are the plant world’s equivalent of Goofus and Gallant. Looking at the two of them, one wonders how they can share the same name.

The answer to this question may be found in the following story, which every Israeli kid on a school excursion has heard: Once upon a time, the Minister of Forests invited all the flowers, including the two Rockrose brothers, to a party. The more OCD of the two woke up early, shaved and showered, donned his pressed white party shirt, and arrived on time. Meanwhile, his good-for-nothing brother slept through his alarm, had no time to shave, shower or change clothes, and arrived late to the party. When he saw that everyone else was neat and clean and wearing their nicest clothes, he blushed in shame. And ever since then, the petals of the Soft-Hairy Rockrose have been purple and wrinkled and bristly, while his brother, the Sage-Leaved Rockrose, boasts smooth white petals that emit a delicate fragrance.

Also on view right now is Red Everlasting (height 30-50 centimeters, Helichrysum sanguineum), which looks like a cluster of drops of blood. In Hebrew it is known as dam hamakabim (blood of the Maccabees). Legend has it that the flower grows wherever any blood of the 2nd-centry BCE Jewish rebels against Greece was shed. The protected species has become the symbol of Israel’s Memorial Day and is featured on the stickers distributed at schools and public observances.

You can see but shouldn't touch the Holy Thistle (gdilan matzui), which boasts a beautiful and intricate purple flower that is protected by a network of thorns that turn dangerous as spring becomes summer and the soft pointy barbs become razor-sharp spikes.

Be on the lookout for Wild Leek (shum gavoha), a delightfully fragrant purple wild garlic; Spiny Broom (kida se’ira), whose sweet yellow blossoms are beginning to appear on the roadsides; and Bristly Hollyhock (hotmit zifanit), which by late May will be hogging the scene with its two-meter-high stalks studded with purple-hued flowers, especially along the northern sections of Route 6. Who says you don’t get your money’s worth for paying the toll?
 

Javier Martin, Wikimedia Commons