It happens in Canada and Scandinavia, in northern and western Europe, in the eastern part of the United States, in Korea, Chile, Japan and the Caucasus.
But when it comes to leaf peeping, that autumnal event when carotenoid pigments take over green leaves, turning them yellow, red, orange and amber, creating a fabulous wash of color in the canopy of trees, Israel doesn’t quite cut it.
Interestingly, it was a University of Haifa scientist, Simcha Lev-Yadun, who figured out that some trees turn red because of their need to continue fighting insects, while others turn yellow in autumn because their “anti-herbivore component was relaxed,” he wrote in a study published several years ago in the New Scientist. The pigmentation changes are a tool for survival.
That said, there are fewer options for leaf-watching in these parts, partially because “they’d be stupid to stand in the rain and not keep growing,” said Ya’akov Shkolnik, a professional tree hugger, who researches and writes about trees for the JNF. The trees, that is.
“Our trees keep growing in the winter because it rains here, and the water keeps them green,” he added.
But, all hope is not lost.
As a country that’s become a meeting ground for people from different places, the country has ‘imported’ several types of trees from northern climes, offering some solid samples of fall foliage from center to north, but no, not so much in the south.
This week, the top five places to go looking for fall foliage, in and around the land.
1) Head to the mountains, suggested Shkolnik, that’s where the deciduous trees reside, looking for cold weather and real winter conditions. The Meron mountain near Safed is covered with cyprus oaks, and at this time of year, its leaves turn and fall, covering the ground with a layer of colorful, crunchy foliage. If you can’t get to Meron right now, try the hills outside Jerusalem, specifically at United States Park at the Nes Harim junction, also known simply as Bar Behar, the name of a popular cafe there. Among its many trails is where the terebinth tree flourishes, and turns red in fall, “somehow adjusting” at 600 meters, said Shkolnik, even though it doesn’t always get a real winter in these parts.
2) Another tree, the Tavor oak, which originates from the deserts of Asia, where there are hot summers and cold, snowy winters, also features leaves that change color during the fall, with flora cascading onto the ground. Head to the lower Galilee to do some Tavor oak leaf peeping, specifically in Park Admit and the Rainbow Cave, overlooking Haifa, and in Alonei Abba, near Bethlehem of the Galilee, where a natural forest of ancient Tavor oaks tower above their fellow trees in peace and quiet.
“It’s like being abroad in Europe,” commented Shkolnik.
3) The Oriental Plane or dolev tree is another species that takes on fall colors, said Shkolnik, and this northern European species needs lots of water, which is why you find it growing wild along the riverbanks of Betzet, Amud, Hatzbani and the Hermon rivers in the north. That’s where it grows in clusters, although you can also find individual trees as far south as the Judean hills, where the plane tree can be identified by its large, five-pointed leaves and ball-shaped blossoms that sprout pointy hairs. Right now, it’s easiest to find the dolev by its leaves, which turn yellow in autumn.
4) Not interested in searching near or far for falling leaves of one particular tree? Go visit Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute, where an acclimatization park was planted with trees from all parts of the globe, in order to figure out which ones would adjust best to the local soil and climate. You may not get much in terms of leaf peeping, but you will find enormous, 30-meter-high Nyasaland Mahogany trees, brought here in the 1950s, as well as Indian red silk cotton trees and Indian Banyans, with airborne roots that plant themselves into new trunks. Finally, head to the eastern end of the campus where you’ll find a large orchard, harkening back to Rehovot’s roots as the Sabra orange capital during the establishment years of the state. But don’t expect to find any oranges just yet; it’s still early for citrus fruit.
5) Walk outside your house or office to see what’s growing on the street. Sometimes you just have to look up to see what’s going on in nature. I spied a leafy vine turning red as it crawled up the wall of a neighbor’s house, and this small, red leaf on the ground at the local playground, origin unknown. There have been plenty of other deciduous trees imported to Israel, commented Shkolnik, and while many don’t take to local conditions, others do, sometimes when it’s least expected. I know this much; I won’t ever have enough leaves falling in my backyard to necessitate raking them up, but that’s one chore I’m happy to have left behind in my native country. That, and shoveling snow.
Happy leaf peeping.