Scientists Sniff Out New Species of Garlic in Israel

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'Summer Garlic.'Credit: Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir

The world of nature in our small country continues to provide scientists with periodic surprises, with one of the most recent being a new species of garlic found in the Mount Hermon area. This strain joins the 46 other species of garlic that grow in Israel.

The new discovery was made by botanical researchers from Sicily who surveyed the Hermon in conjunction with Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir, chief scientist at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus. The researchers recently published their findings in the journal Phytotaxa, which deals with the classification of plant species.

In June 2012, Prof. Salavatore Brullo of the University of Catania, considered a global expert on species of wild garlic, visited Israel, and on a tour he conducted on Mount Hermon with Fragman-Sapir, the two found an unfamiliar population of garlic. Samples were collected and grown at the botanical gardens and in Brullo’s laboratory in Sicily. Afterward they were compared with similar species and mapped genetically. The researchers concluded that this was a previously unknown species. Since it only grows in the summer, it has been temporarily dubbed “summer garlic” (allium therinanthum).

Additional surveys of the Hermon turned up other concentrations of the new species, at altitudes of between 1,450 and 1,700 meters. According to Fragman-Sapir, the summer garlic’s habitat is a mountainous, open forest that includes oak trees. Because it is only found in a limited area, it has been declared an endangered species, though it’s possible that it will be found at other sites on the Israeli Hermon, or perhaps on the Hermon range in Syria and Lebanon.

The primary threat to the summer garlic on the Hermon is being trampled by the cows that have been grazing on wide swaths of the mountain in recent years, endangering other unique plant species as well. The Hermon contains the largest concentration of endangered plant species in Israel, with 77 such species in an area of less than 100 square kilometers.

“The new garlic blooms in the summer, when its leaves are already dry,” said Fragman-Sapir. “Its flowers are straw-colored and well-camouflaged by the dry flora that typifies the season. That’s how it evades being eaten by animals seeking fresh plants.” It blooms only in summer, he said, to avoid competing with other plants for pollinating insects. During the summer insects will land solely on it because there are no other fresh plants.

Among the 46 species of garlic in Israel, only a few are similar to the garlic and onion that are widely consumed. In Israel there are four types of garlic that are not found anywhere else in the world, including what is known in Hebrew as “autumn garlic” (allium tardiflorum Kollmann & Shmida), found only in the Carmel region, and “southern garlic” (Allium negevense Kollmann), found only in the Negev and Judean Desert.

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