Eretz Yisrael, located at the junction of three continents, is the meeting place of diverse climates and vegetation zones – and home to over 2,500 plants!
Obviously, it would be impossible to discuss them all in one article. However, in honor of Tu B’Shevat we will focus on some pre-spring and spring flowers.
Eretz Yisrael is covered by a mantle of flowers and leafy growth from mid-Shevat until about the end of Iyar (usually February to June, depending on the year). This is not to say flowers are lacking at other times of the year. But the abundance of flora in this period turns the country into an enchanted wonderland. Even the most casual observer cannot help but be impressed by the colorful floral display. Nature blooms with hundreds of herbs, shrubs, climbers and trees, which contribute their color and fragrance. Some of the vegetation is common and plentiful, whereas other strains are rare and unusual.
Shkeidiah – Almond
The flowering of the almond — shkeidiah, marks the beginning of the “breaking of winter cold” in the Holy Land. What a grand sight — the majestic shkeidiot in bloom, with their delicately scented blossoms of gentle color, dotting the Israeli landscape.
The almond tree and its fruit are called luz in Tanach and luza in Gemara. The word shaked means “quick” in Hebrew, indicating that the almond is one of the first summer fruits to ripen. In some species the fruit develops even before the leaves appear.
Yirmiyahu Hanavi (1:11) saw a branch of an almond tree, signifying that punishment was imminent. Almond trees have grown in Eretz Yisrael since ancient times. When Yaakov Avinu sent his son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, “the best fruits of the Land,” almonds were included (Bereishis 43:11). The Rambam writes, “Almonds are the best of fruits.” It is well known that almonds are extremely nutritious and have many medicinal qualities.
The almond motif was part of the divine design for the Menorah (Shemos 25:33-34, 37:19-20). According to some opinions, Moshe was instructed to make the bowls of the Menorah in the shape of almonds. Others say that drawings of almonds were engraved on the bowls. Ibn Ezra says the reference to the almond blossoms in Koheles (12:5) alludes to the whiteness of the hair of old age. Rashisays that the fact that the almond, which sprouts before any other tree, is mentioned in the pasuk is to illustrate old age, which comes and overtakes one all too quickly.
Kalanit – Crown Anemone
Another early bloomer is the crown anemone, known as the kalanit. The most common of the flower is bright red. When the British ruled in Palestine (1917-1948) their soldiers wore red berets and they were called “kalaniot” by the local Jewish populace.
These flowers also come in a variety of colors — white, cream, pink, purple, blue among them. Generally, the non-red anemones are more common in northern Eretz Yisrael, where they start flowering in late winter. This photo was taken on Har Hakalaniot, which is part of the Gilboa Mountain. Kalaniot are protected flowers.
Pereg – Corn Poppy
As spring progresses, red beauties that could be mistaken for kalaniot appear. These flowers are actually members of the poppy family. They are called pereg in Hebrew and thought to be the pre-runner to the cultivated poppy. Many times, they create large, sparkling red areas in northern and central Israel. The seeds of this annual herb can remain dormant under the soil for up to 80 years and then they will suddenly spring into life. How reminiscent of techiyas hameisim!
Rakefet – Cyclamen
Prolonged in their flowering season, cyclamens are profuse, beautiful and fragrant, making them highly beloved. Called rakafot in Hebrew, there are different strains growing in our Land. The rakefet mezo’eiah (mezo’eiah means found) has flowers ranging in color from white to deep shocking-pink, and heart-shaped leaves. On Mount Meron and in the Golan Heights one can find rakefet yavanit with smaller flowers and round leaves.
After pollination, a rakefet’s flower stem coils downward, allowing its flower head to droop down near to the ground and shed the ripe seeds into the nearby soil, thereby ensuring the continuation of the species in abundance. Rakafot are also protected wildflowers.
The daisy family (charziot in Hebrew) abounds in Eretz Yisrael. The crown daisy grows in fallow lands, fields and along roadsides in most of Israel. When evening falls, the daisy flower bends down to shield its centre, in which the seeds develop.
Chalmit – Mallow
Mallows are edible plants widely used as food. In the War of Independence when Jerusalem was under siege, the common mallow provided food for many of its residents. The leaves were used to prepare salads, fritters and soups. Children would hold contests, competing to see who could collect the most of the of the plants’ bread-like edible fruit.