In other climes, it’s April showers that bring on May flowers, but here it all happens in the winter. Hopefully.
The rains of December, January and February bring out a fabulous display of wildflowers, seen on the sidewalk, sometimes in the garden, or out in the fields and on the trail.
Israelis have become mighty protective of their wild blooms ever since the anemone, called the kalanit in Hebrew, nearly got picked into extinction. Following the law passed forbidding the picking of anemones, a government campaign used posters and public relations to teach kids not to pick the red and purple blooms. They in turn taught their parents.
These days, winter wildflower visits are de rigeur, and one festival, the Negev’s Scarlet South Festival, celebrates the wild red anemones that dot full fields down south. You can also head out on your own wildflower tour, and we’ve picked our top five faves.
1) The anemone, or the kalanit, is taken from the Hebrew word for a bride, a kalla, referring to a bride’s beauty. The flower starts popping up in January, particularly in areas where there’s been plenty of rain and moisture. One spot I like to visit each year is Hirbet Madras, in the Yoav Yehuda region. Take some time to wander around the area, do some cave crawling and admire the clusters of anemones, as well as the cyclamen and asphodel, small white flowers that are edible. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find long sprigs of wild asparagus supported by a unruly bush. Just snap one off and munch on it; it’s green goodness in the wild.
Moshav Tzafririm, off Route 38, look for signs to Hirbet Madras.
2) Wild purple irises are harder to find, but worth the journey. There’s Mount Gilboa up north, and if you find some black and purple irises, you’ll stare in wonder at their velvety petals. But in the center of the country is the Argaman Iris Reserve, just south of Netanya, off the coastal highway. In typical Israeli fashion, a housing development is going up in the area, and that’s when local tree huggers began publicizing the fact that wild irises grow there between February and March. It’s hard to say what will happen here, as there are efforts to declare the area an official nature reserve. In the meantime, go see them for yourselves.
Exit the coastal road (Route 2) onto 553, heading west onto Sderot Ben Gurion. The nature reserve is on the left, abutting Netanya’s Argaman Beach.
3) Lupines are also purple, but with a more blueish shade than the iris or anemone. One of the best places to appreciate them is Lupine Hill, or Givat Hatermosim, in the Ella Valley, just outside Jerusalem. Folks flock there in February to walk among the bunches of lupines studded with anemones and the occasional crocus. Take a picnic and enjoy the view.
Take Route 38 to 375; the hill is just before Moshav Aderet on the right, and Netiv Halemed Hey on the left.
4) What’s likeable about the almond tree flower, besides its delicate pinkish petals and the fact that it has its own song, is its availability. Wild almond trees are everywhere, planted along sidewalks, in backyards, at parks and playgrounds. You can head up north to find orchards full of almond trees planted along many roads. Or consider walking around your own neighborhood, and spot these delicate trees growing in your midst.
5) If you’re hungry on a walk home, pick some wild cape sorrel for a quick snack. Called hamtzutzim in Hebrew for their fresh but sour-tasting leaves and flowers, cape sorrel is easily found right now, often mistaken for a weed in backyards where it grows among the grass and flowers. Kids love to eat it, and it grows wild during the winter, leaning out of cracks in the sidewalk.