The Endemic Flora of Israel

Israel’s small land is packed with stunning natural wonders. For now, let’s go to the plants. From parched deserts to lush forests to snow-covered mountains, Israel and its neighboring countries will surprise and dazzle you with various types of flora that you may not find anywhere else.

At present, there are 2,867 known species of plants endemic to Israel and nearby regions, but we could list only some of them here:

1. Anacamptis israelitica

It is a type of orchid found only in Israel. It is mainly distributed throughout Galilee in an elevation between 400 and 1,200 meters. However, its conservation status is listed as “vulnerable.”

2. Crocus aleppicus

Crocus aleppicus is a species of flowering plant of the genus Crocus. Hence, it is related to the Crocus sativus, the flowering plant from where the expensive spice, saffron, is derived. It is distributed throughout Israel, West Syria, and Jordan, and it blooms every winter.

3. Judean iris or Gilead iris (Iris atrofusca)

The Judean iris or Gilead iris is a perennial rhizomatous flowering plant belonging to the genus Iris. It is commonly distributed throughout the deserts of Israel and Jordan. It has a long thick stem, long sword-shaped leaves, and fragrant flowers that come in shades of purple-brown, dark brown, dark lilac, reddish-black, or dark purple.

As a desert plant, the Judean iris thrives well in places with a dry summer, full sun, and well-drained soil. A popular ornamental plant, Judean iris can be generally propagated from seed or by division.

4. Coastal iris (Iris atropurpurea)

The coastal iris is another species in the genus Iris. It is a rhizomatous flowering plant. The leaves are alternate, rosette, linear, glaucous (blue-green), and falcate (sickle-shaped). Between February to March, it blooms one or two flowers in shades of red-brown, burgundy, dark purple, or blackish purple. Its sepals have a broad yellow beard tipped with purple, while its signal patch is darker than the sepal background.

This hardy plant does best in dry, Mediterranean-like climates. It is named as such as it is found along Israel’s coasts. However, agriculture and urbanization have contributed to coastal iris’s dwindling numbers. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists coastal iris as “critically endangered.”

5. Vartan’s iris (Iris vartanii)

The Vartan’s iris (Iris vartanii) is a perennial flowering plant from the genus Iris. But compared to Judean iris and coastal iris, both of which or rhizomatous, the Iris vartanii is bulbous.

The flower is named after Dr. Kaloost Vartan of Nazareth, an Armenian doctor who founded the Nazareth Hospital in 1835. Dr. Vartan discovered the iris while working in Palestine on the foothills of Nazareth. The flower is also found in Jordan and Syria.

It has four narrow leaves that are not quite equal-sided. The flowers are typically light blue or grayish lilac white with lower perianth lobes (falls) having dark blue veins. The strong scent of the flowers reminds one of almonds. Currently, IUCN lists Vartan’s iris as “vulnerable.”

6. Athel tamarisk, Athel tree, or Athel pine (Tamarix aphylla)

Considered one of the plants mentioned in the Bible, the Athel tamarisk is the largest known species of the genus Tamarix (tamarisk or salt cedar). The Athel tamarisk is an evergreen tree that thrives well in the desert and other arid areas.

Its leaves are tiny and alternately arranged along the branches. With its resistance to saline and alkaline soils, the Athel tamarisk flushes out salt, which can form a crusted layer on the surface and drip onto the ground underneath.

While some tamarisk trees and shrubs are invasive and considered weeds, some provide benefits to humans. The Athel tamarisk has been useful as a windbreak and shade tree. It is also mentioned in the Bible a few times (in Genesis 21:33, 1 Samuel 22:6, and 1 Samuel 31:13).

7. Lycium schweinfurthii

Lycium schweinfurthii is a deciduous shrub of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), making it closely related to the tomato, eggplant, and bell peppers. This flowering species is hermaphrodite, meaning it has both male and female organs. Distribution of the plant is commonly done through pollination. It thrives in well-drained soils and can also grow in poor soils. It is also considered a coastal plant as it survives maritime exposure.

8. Tulipa agenesis

Tulipa agenesis is a bulbous perennial flowering plant native to Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, as well as Iran, Cyprus, Turkey, and the Aegean Islands. A species of the genus Tulipa, this plant is characterized by deep red flowers with black and yellow markings around the center and a green stem.