My (Imaginary) Orchid Collection

Wild Ride
A couple of weeks ago we went to hunt for wild peonies, and found many new orchids along the trail. I also spotted a few tall orchids that weren't in bloom yet, so today I went back to spot them. And I present to you the whole series. Perhaps this is not the place for this post, as non of them is fragrant. Amon gate Israeli orchids, only the Holy Orchid (Orchis sancta) that is extremely rare (and I didn't meet yet) and the Scented Orchid (which smells like dung) have smell. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

I'll start with the first orchid I met on the trail (note the many Anatolian Orchids behind it):
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
Orchis punctulata סחלב נקוד
Orchis galilaea סחלב הגליל
סחלב  שלוש-השיניים Orchis tridentata
Orchis tridentata סחלב  שלוש-השיניים 
Orchis anatolica סחלב אנטולי
Orchis anatolica סחלב אנטולי
This small yet impressively coloured orchid rules the slopes of Mt. Meron but still manages to look special and impressive. 
Orchis papilionacea ? סחלב פרפרני
Orchis papilionacea  סחלב פרפרני
Orchis sancta ?
Orchis papilionacea  סחלב פרפרני
This is the same as above but perhaps older and therefore less vibrant in colour.
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
This is the one I spotted about to bloom a couple of weeks ago, and came back to see today. It was already starting to dry out, but still - you can get the picture. It's a very tall orchid. Note how it compares to the rockrose (cistus) and blood helichrysum next to it:
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
Ophrys umblicata דבורנית דינסמור
Ophrys umblicata דבורנית דינסמור
This last photo was not photographed on Mt. Hillel but I found another one and didn't bother to take a photo (was saving camera space for the peonies!). There are several other kinds of bee orchids in Israel, here is another one just for fun:
Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys transhyrcana) דבורנית הקטיפה
Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys transhyrcana) דבורנית הקטיפה
Ophrys holosericea (Great Bee Orchid) דבורנית גדולה
Ophrys holosericea (Great Bee Orchid) דבורנית גדולה

The following are also not found on the same site, but are part of my imaginary orchid collection nevertheless.
Anacamptis pyramidalis ?? בן-סחלב צריפי
Anacamptis pyramidalis בן-סחלב צריפי

This one is relatively common in our area (lower altitude). I think this its rhizomes are the original ingredient of the Sahleb pudding.
Mystery Orchid
This lovely one I could not for the life of me identified. Spotted in Kziv Creek reserve, along the same trail that has the Wild Lilies. I would love to learn which one it is!


Wild Peonies

Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
We went hunting for coral peonies (Paeonia mascula) in their natural habitat. I discovered so much more than I expected on the way, including about 7 kinds of orchids - so not everything will fit in this post. These impressive flowers are native to a large area surrounding the Mediterranean: Spain, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. Here in Israel they only grow in one area in Israel, in the Mount Meron reserve. And even there it is not widely spread, but is found only in one specific area of the forest on Mount Hillel (near the Druze village Beit Jann).  In Arabic they are called "Bear Foot" because of the shape of their fruit. The origin for this name is a legend about lovers whose parents opposed their marriage. They ran away to the mountain, and were caught in a snow storm. The search party from the village lost hope for them when they saw brea footprints in the snow. Yet they followed the bear's trail and found the couple in a cave, and learned that the bear saved their lives by bringing them food. In the spring, peonies appeared on the bear's trail.
Jerusalem sage in bloom
(Jerusalem sage - מרוות ירושלים Salvia hierosolymitana - in bloom)
Mandrake fruit
(Mandrake fruit, unripe)
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
(Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש)

To get to the actual trail where the peonies live, one needs to walk on a pretty uneventful gravel road in an agricultural land that is abundant with olive grove, cherries and other stone fruit. There are of course some interesting plants along the way - but nothing that you won't see elsewhere: Jerusalem sage (which was in bloom when we visited), and white orchids here and there. I even stumbled across mandrake fruit (still green and not fragrant yet).
Arbutus and oak forest
Then there was a nice little trail going uphill, distributed again by a gravel road, and shortly after plunging into a rather steep and slipper downhill trail, which is where we were about to meet the peonies for the first time.

It was an unusually cold, windy and rainy day. So not so many people were there to spot the flowers. This is unusual for the week-long holiday of Passover, in which the country's parks are overflowing with noisy Israelis littering nature to their heart's content. The few people who were there were very nice and helpful, and we just happened to start the trail with two couples, who were relatives of someone from my village. Not only were they not loud and evidently curious about plants (so I couldn't help myself telling them everything I know about plants we met along the trail) but they also invited us for a coffee which they brewed right there next to the first peonies we found. It was nice to be the guest of an outdoors picnic like that.

More importantly: If it wasn't for these companions,  we probably would have turned on my heels right after meeting the first few bushes. They were located at the start of this downhill trail, which was immensely slippery and my daughter was a bit hesitant to continue with the trail. Having more people around gave us more confidence.
Wild peonies in an arbutus and oak forest
I've seen peonies countless times in gardens in British Columbia, but nothing compares to finding them like this (even though it was to be expected that I'll find them, of course). Their presence in this quiet oak and arbutus forest is nothing short of magical!
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)

Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
The wild peony (Hebrew: אדמונית החורש) are considered the first medicine plant by the Greek. They are named after Paeon (AKA Paean), the Greek God of Healing. And indeed their leaves and roots were used to heal a number of conditions, epically for night terrors, to treat the neural diseases, epilepsy, headaches and liver complaints, digestive issues and clearing the womb after childbirth or during mensuration. Dioscorides account in his Herbal (Materia Medica) mentions specific preparations for treating those conditions, as well as clearing the womb after childbirth, and how different parts of the plant are used:

"III. 140. Paeonia or glycyside which some name pentorobon, dactylos idaeos, the root paeonia, others aglaophotida. The stem grows two spans high and has many branches. The male has leaves like walnut, the female much divided leaves like smyrnium. At the top of the stem it produces pods like almonds, in which when opened are found many small red grains like the seeds of pomegranate and in the middle five or six purplish black ones. The root of the male is about the thickness of a finger and a span long, with an astringent taste, white, the root of the female has seven or eight swellings like acorns as in asphodel. The dried root is given to women who have not been cleansed (internally) after childbirth. It promotes menstruation (a dose containing root) the size of an almond being drunk; it lessens abdominal pains when drunk in wine. It helps those who have jaundice and kidney and bladder troubles. Soaked in wine and drunk it stops diarrhoea. Ten to twelve red grains from the fruit taken in dark rough (dry) wine slop menstrual flow and being eaten they ease stomach pains. Drunk and eaten by children they remove the beginnings of stone. The black seeds are good against nightmares, hysteria and pains of the womb when up to fifteen are drunk in mead or wine. It grows on high mountains and foothills."
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
Last but not least: Their scent, of course!
Wild peonies have a robust, sweet-spicy scent that is at least ten times better than the garden variety. I find that more often than not, the multi-layers of cultivated petals reek of something green and nasty, best described as the scent of the water in the vase after flowers have been sitting in it for a week. White peonies (and some light pink ones) tend to be better smelling, with a scent spicy yet cool, peppery and green and only a tad rosy and clove or carnation like. The are sharp and their vibration resonates around the head and the nose. These were all around sweet, warm and heavenly. Inhaling their scent created a feeling similar to smelling roses, a warmth and soothing around the heart and solar plexus. And most of all, so surprising to smell this kind of scent on a mountaintop surrounded by oak and arbutus trees!
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula) and Ayala Moriel

Saffron Crocus

Saffron Crocus!
Finding this saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) on Mout Meron was such a delightful surprise!
I'm thrilled to report that the aroma, though unmistakable saffrony, is elusive and different. There is something about the fresh flower that doesn't translate into the dead or dried one. The breath of fresh mountain air that surrounds it. A hint of moss from a nearby oak branch. Maybe even a tiny bit of cinnamon. But most importantly - a generally flowery feeling that you don't get when encountering the spice.

The three orange columns you see at the centre of the flowers are not the stamens (which are the male flower bits that carry the pollen), but the feminine stigma, which in the saffron crocus, unlike many other dual-gender flowers, is located above the stamens, making it a more difficult flower to pollinate.

I've returned to the studio feeling inspired to create a very floral saffron fragrance. Perhaps incorporate it into my existing Tamya perfume, and then work out the autumn crocus theme by adding a hint of saffron. It would be interesting to try to "spice up" this otherwise innocent, fruity-floral fragrance. It's a very uplifting fragrance, and may be exactly the kind of floral surrounding this dusky crocus needs.

Walking In A Cloud

Take a guess: Where was this picture taken?

Here's another hint, from the same place:

Whistler? Vancouver Island? Oregon Coast?
Not even close!
I'll give you another visual hint:

Oaks plus moss plus fogs - must be Northern California?

Non of it! These photos (and the ones to follow) were all taken on Mount Meron in Israel. This is one of the most luscious spots in the country, as the mountain blocks the rainclouds from the Mediterranean, thus keeping for itself 900mm of precipitation annually. Just a little more to the east from Mout Meron, the Eastern Galillee rapidly becomes about as dry as a desert, leading all the way to the Sea of Galilee, which is surrounded by rather dry, barren and rocky mountains.

The mountain has a very round shape, like a mound, elevation of 1,208m. The mountain also has a religious significance, as the tomb of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai is burried there with his son, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon. Rabbi Shimon was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva - one of the most influential rabbis at the times of the Roman invasion (right after the ruining of the 2nd temple) and beyond. He was executed by the Romans, who did not allow the Jewish people to practice their religion; and Rabbi Shimon  and his son both had the same fate awaiting them - so they hid in a cave near Peki'in (a village in the Eastern Galilee - now mostly inhabited by Druze people). They lived there for 12 years, getting their nourishment from a well and a carob tree at the entrance to the cave, and dedicated their entire time to study the Torah and it is also said that this is when Rabbi Shimon has written the Zohar - the mystical book that is the foundation for the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). Although the authorship of the Zohar is historically questionable, it is certain that Rabbi Shimon's significant influence on the Kabbalah and the much later Hassidic movement is with his assertion that the intent behind performing or observing the Mitzvot (Jewish laws) is of utter importance - the internal motive, not just the outer actions need to be observed. This is very unusual for Judasim, which is fundamentally a religion of laws and deeds, and doesn't quite tell people what to think or believe in, jsut what to do... In celebration of his life, every year at the anniversary of his passing in Lag BaOmer, Hassidic people particularly from Safed and the entire country make a pilgrimage there, lighting bonfires and giving their 3 years old sons their first haircut and celebrate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's spiritual legacy.

On the slightly overcast morning of March 25th, 2014, I set to hike on this beautiful mountain with my energetic teenaged daughter. The original route (suggested by my tour guide brother Yotam) as we originally were supposed to meet my other brother and his 3 young kids. We were supposed to drive all the way to the peak and walk on a circular trail called "The Peak Trail" which surrounds the military base at the top of the mountain. I stopped on the entrance to the nature reserve, and saw a sign leading to the peak. Even though the surrounding did not match my brother's description whatsoever, I set on the trail. Which turned out to be everything but an easy 1 hour stroll around the peak... We had enough food, water and first aid supplies to last for a whole day, so I was not worried and even when I suspected we were on the wrong trail, we just kept climbing the mountain.

At first, we were walking up through many shady oak trees. There was no sign of any of the rare spring wild flowers my brother raved about, and I must admit I was a tad disappointed. But after about 20 minutes of hiking, there was a bit of a clearing the landscape changed ever so slightly, to include some arbutus trees (in bloom, as pictured above - with little honeyed white flowers, reminiscent of linden, mimosa and araucaria), as well as more open patches of rocky earth. That's where I spotted the first pink orchid (probably an Anatolian Orchid). I was so excited I snapped a few closeups... But later on this little orchid turned out to be the most common seasonal wild flower on the mountain - so much there there were entire meadows of it!

We kept climbing up and up, reaching a sort of a plateau and marveling at the impressively tall Cedars of Lebanon (pictured at the beginning of the post), until we reached a little resting area built of rocks, and facing the west. We sat down to eat our lunch (we were already hiking for an hour then, and it was getting later then I planned). We bought sambusac on the way - a Druze flatbread that is baked in open fire taboon and is filled with various delicious condiments - labneh (yogurt cheese), za'atar (mixture of wild hyssop, sumac and sesame), and kishek (a condiment made of roasted peppers and walnuts). All were still piping hot from the fire! We were not even halfway through lunch, when all of a sudden I felt a cool tickle on my bare arms. Before I even registered what was going on, grey clouds gathered from the west, and we were at the midst of a thunderstorm! We got our sweaters back on and took cover under the oak trees, continuing to munch on our sambusac, taking our time, and hoping that the storm will pass by the time we finish our food. And fortunately, it did. We emerged from our cover to find the entire mountain blanketed in a rather thick, foggy cloud. The unmistakable clear petrichor fragrance  emanated from the earth, which has been dry for a couple of weeks now. It felt like walking on a cloud, literally: We were almost at the peak by now, and we could barely see anything beyond the trail.

And then we spotted some more rare wild flowers! Tulips, and other bulb flowers which I am yet to identify.

We went all the way to the top, and then glided all the way back (and much faster by then, as we were skipping and hopping down the trail like restless mountain goats). We then drove all the way through the fog to the peak (from where we were supposed to take the circular trail) and on the way we spotted another type of orchid.

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