Posted by: azzenny | July 29, 2013

A stellar day!

Caper capers II, and Argania Spinosa.

Jerusalem provided more successful caper-hunting – not only from the Old City (it is mainly capparis that grows from the fine crevices of the Western Wall) but the purple caper zoharyi that first fascinated me 6 years ago, along the sidewalk from the main road to the Leonardo Hotel and Independence Park, were generous this time.

At the 3000 year-old city of Qeiyafa: capparis zoharyi. Happy Camper, ani.

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Egyptian Caper

Then, on the drive along the Dead Sea to the Negev, I saw BLUE caper shrubs along the road! There I was, clambering up the crumbling limestone by the side of the highway, the blaring horns of tour buses threatening my delicate balance… I rubbed a blue leaf, and realized the blue was evaporated salt from the Dead Sea. Sigh.

But today in the Negev with friend and super-guide Adam Sela and his son Tal, we hit a sort of paydirt. The blue capers are here in the desert highlands 20-plus miles from the Dead Sea. This appears to be the ‘Egyptian Caper.’  Not currently in bloom (more a pale cream-yellow than white/purple) or fruit, but another sighting on my list. (And really blue!)

More exciting by far, however, was our identification of the extremely rare – that is, they have been so far found on only one small patch of desert in the whole world – Capparis Ramonensis – the Makhtesh Ramon Caper. It is a smallish, prostrate white-stemmed caper which turns its leaves vertically to reduce extreme sun exposure during the daytime.

http://flora.huji.ac.il/browse.asp?lang=en&action=specie&specie=CAPRAM

leaves upright for sun protection

It has a cellophane-like protective membrane to reduce transpiration, as well. It grows only on completely undisturbed ‘triassic gypsum’ crust, on a south-facing slight incline, and we saw perhaps three dozen plants scattered over a few acres.  I worried that every step crunching through a crust of smooth plaster-like surface reduced their usable territory.

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Ramon Caper

I’ve certainly never seen anything so rare in my life, and it was a humbling experience. To our great distress, the plants were under very severe attack from caterpillers, which chomp through the protective membrane, leading to the dehydration of whatever leaves they don’t devour. I started aggressively slaughtering caterpillers on several of the not-yet denuded plants, and if I upset the delicate balance of nature, so sue me.

Even so, that was just one of the highlights of the day. The  other was meeting Yoni, who owns and runs Orllya Farm, home of 500 young Argan trees (the rare source of ‘Moroccan Oil’,  the trees grow native only in Morocco and are  experimentally being cultivated in the Negev).  He is an unbelievably gentle and kind man, and over lemon-grass and sage tea and date-filled cookies, he told me everything I needed to know to have a better shot at keeping my two little Argan trees alive (they should be 18-24 inches tall by now, not 5 inches, so I need to kick some little argania spinosa butt when I get home).

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7-year-old Argan tree.

Today was truly a once-in-a-lifetime day, and I am so grateful to Adam and Tal for making it all possible.

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