February marks the beginning of spring in our garden. Winter is certainly not over, and we are looking forward to many more rainy days, but the garden is awakening, and there are many stunning blossoms. The most recommended area to visit is the South-Africa section, where the Aloe species are providing a breathtaking display.
There is a lot to see – so let’s get started!
Let us start at the South-Africa section. The genus Aloe has over 500 different species of succulent plants with impressive flowers. Most of them originate in Africa and nearby islands, but some grow in the southern Arabian Peninsula. In our garden there are around 40 species, and in this season most of them are in bloom.
The rocky terrain around the ancient burial caves in the South Africa section are covered with wonderful shades of orange and red – this is the Aloe aff. maculata – a hybrid aloe.
The Aloe flowers have elongated red-orange and sometimes yellow flowers. These flowers are rich in nectar, and they attract many birds that enjoy the nectar and pollinate the flowers. In the pictures you can see the White-spectacled Bulbul and the Common Chiffchaff enjoying the flowers of Aloe ferox, which is the most impressive Aloe in the garden; and the male Palestine Sunbird enjoying a hybrid Aloe.
Many Aloe species bloom in winter. In South Africa they bloom in July-August – winter in the Southern Hemisphere. In our garden they adjusted to the local seasons, and bloom in January-February.
Aloe flowers are beautiful and attractive, but pay attention to their leaves as well: Aloe maculata has spots on its leaves, creating a unique pattern. This Aloe is durable in a variety of soils and condition, water saving and recommended for gardening.
Aloe parvibracteata, or Short-Bract Aloe, is named for its short bracts, compared to other Aloe species. This is one of the smaller Aloe species in the garden.
Many Aloe species are used in traditional medicine. The best known one is the Aloe vera, but additional species are used as well – externally for skin irritations, and juice prepared and used internally for digestive problems. Some of the species are used for flavor extracts and drinks.
Along the paths in the South Africa section you can see yellow composite shrublets in bloom. These are three species of the same genus, called Euryops. All three are water-saving recommended plants:
Euryops pectinatus (right) – with large inflorescences, water-saving, frost resistant and easy to grow – features that make it a good ornamental plant, liked by many gardeners around the world.
Euryops lateriflorus (center) – an evergreen, sun-loving, water-saving shrub with impressive foliage.
Euryops multifidus (left) – a spreading shrub with relatively small flowers, sun-loving and water-saving. It appears in the invasive species list in the state of Arizona in the US but do not show invasive behavior in Israel.
Near the burial cave you can see tall flowering racemes with an attractive red-yellow inflorescence. This is Kniphofia ‘Winter Cheer’ – a cultivated variety of Kniphofia uvaria, a perennial sun-loving herbaceous flower, which is drought, frost and wind-resistant.
Continuing our stroll in the South Africa section, we shall turn our attention to a shrub with succulent pencil-like stems, and small greenish-yellow flowers: this is Euphorbia mauritanica. This Euphorbia grows in well-drained soil, in full sun to partial shade, and is highly resistant to drought, diseases and pests. Its white milky sap is poisonous and may cause irritation when you touch it.
Another pink-flowered shrub catches the eye with its bunched small flowers and slender yet spiny foliage. This is Muraltia spinose. The Muraltia is called Tortoise Berry because its fruit, that is edible and sweet, is eaten by tortoises and birds, that disperse its seeds.
In the center of the South Africa section there is a large shrub laden with pink flowers, resembling small Hibiscus flowers. This is Anisodontea malvastroides, a relative of the Hibiscus and the Malva that has gentle pink flowers. The Anisodontea’s name refers the shrubs’ irregularly toothed leaves. This is also a recommended water-saving plant, that blooms nearly all year round.
There is so much more to see in the South-Africa section, but the rest of the garden has a lot to offer as well! If youare not too tired, let’s continue our stroll!
All over the garden you can see the Cyclamen persicum in bloom. The Persian Cyclamen, Israel’s national flower and last year’s plant of the month, blooms during winter and early spring. In order to cope with the weather, its flower bends downwards and its petals rise backwards – thus protecting the stamens and pistil. Look for the Cyclamen in the garden’s rockeries, in the walls and next to the paths. Most of our cyclamens are local, and were present in the area before the botanical garden was established, while others were rescued from construction sites.
The seasonal local wildflowers are awakening all over the garden: Anemone coronaria, Asphodelus ramosus and Silene aegyptiaca grow all over the garden, mostly at the edges of garden beds. All three are common species in Israel, mainly in the Mediterranean region, but also on (less arid) northern slopes.
The Crown anemone attracts the eye with its bright colors. In the garden we planted all the different color variants, but only the red colored Anemones are native wildflowers here. The Branched Asphodel is impressive with its clusters of tall white flowering stalks. Its Latin name comes from ancient Greek – Asphodel meadows were the place where the souls of the dead gather. The Asphodelus was commonly planted in ancient graveyards.
The Egyptian Campion is a small annual flower that has adjusted to growing in plantations. In this season you can see pink Campion carpets in the olive groves all around the county. It is also a popular garden flower that blooms ahead of other wild flowers. The Campion (Silene) is also part of our project “return wildflowers to the gardens“, in memory of Nehama Rivlin.
In the Australia section we can see awakening Grevillea species. The Grevillea, commonly known as “the Spider-flower” is a genus with about 360 species, most of them from the Australia to Indonesia area. In the garden there are quite a few Grevillea species. In the picture you can see a female Palestine Sunbird enjoying the nectar of Grevillea johnsonii, a large shrub, up to 4.5 m tall, from south-east Australia, and Grevillea brachystachya, a short shrub, about 1 m tall, endemic to western Australia.
In the medicinal-spice section, as well as in several locations in the Mediterranean section you can see an attrative shrub blooming in violet-blue. This is the Rosmarinus officinalis or Rosemary. Smell the leaves – their fragrance is very pleasant. This shrub attracts bees that enjoy its nectar. Rosmarinus officinalis is one of the more common gardening plants in Israel and worldwide, mainly because it is draught and air-pollution resistant. Rosemary is used for spicing food and wine. In the past, its antibacterial traits were used to preserve meat. In the middle ages, people believed that the Rosemary has the strength to drive away demons, so Rosemary branches were hung all over the house, and and between the linen in bed. Since the smell repels harmful insects, it was also used in libraries and wardrobes.
On the walls of the tropical conservatory you can see a vine with beautiful large orange flowers. This is Thunbergia gregorii, a vine that originates in East Africa. The Orange Clock Vine is a sun-loving water-saving climber, it spreads easily – and blooms nicely even in the cold Jerusalem winter.
This month is spice month in the Tropical conservatory, and we are looking at spices that originate in the Tropical zone. This time we would like to turn your attention to a small plant, that we hope will gradually grow: the Elettaria cardamomum, commonly known as the Green Cardamom – one of the more expensive spices in the kitchen. Elettaria cardamomum is our plant of the month, and you are invited to read more about it.
February is Tulip month in the Plant-of-the-Month corner near the nursery, and in the Geophyte terrace. In the garden, we are growing about 25 different Tulip species and cultivars. In the picture you can see Tulipa urumiensis, a short yellow exciting tulip from Central Asia and Iran. Many Tulip species originate in this region, which is the distribution center of the genus. Many cultivar Tulips originate in this region.
Spring will soon be here, and the garden is full of life! You are welcome to come and visit the garden, and enjoy the beautiful luscious blossoming!