Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mystery solved

Almond trees in bloom. Taken last thursday in the glade to the north.

Finally! Thanks to Nogah Reuveni's wonderful book 'Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage' I have an I.D. on a common bush that has had me baffled for a ridiculously long time. I really love Reuveni's book, it's a must for any naturalist spending any amount of time here.

-gives link to Amazon where available. ISBN 965-233-011-6

This is the thorny cushion shaped bush I've mentioned a million times because there are about a million of them everywhere from the middle of the pine woods to the top of the hills. We photographed the tiny (male) flowers a few weeks ago and their network of pale grey thorns making almost a hexagonal net effect, the leaflets are very small and delicate.

Turns out it's Thorny burnet Sarcopterium spinosum.

There's a lovely picture of leaves, thorns and ripe berries at

as well, as, of course, in Nogah's book. Turns out it's actually a member of the rose family and bee pollinated, so I was out on both those counts.. probably why I was so baffled.

I'd taken it for an aromatic bush simply because on many occasions brushing past them the most gorgeous aromatic fragrance filled the air. Seemed reasonable at the time except that I'd forgotten something. The less conspicuous Israeli thyme Corydothymus captitatus often grows right alongside it and THIS is very aromatic. That's what happens when one assumes! This evening I squeezed leaves of the thorny burnet and found them not aromatic at all. Nope, it was the thyme. This is what comes of not testing one's assumptions! I was so thrilled to get this one sorted out.. this is how I get my kicks!:)

It's known as Sirim in the Bible, (In Hebrew) and when it burns the berries explode with something like a snap crackle and pop effect. It's my theory now that those naughty boys last summer were setting fires just to get this cute effect. At any rate, as we see, those fires don't stop the burnet recovering! Appropriate name!

Anyway, Ms. Reuveni's book, which I had been browsing the previous evening, tipped me off that there are male flowers, those thick with stamens which we had found and also female flowers which are bright red though tiny. Sometimes these are on separate bushes, occasionally the same ones. So today on our walk we looked out for the female flowers and found plenty, it being the season for them. We also found quite a lot of bushes with both but otherwise seemed most were male, though many female. Now adding these photos in Sunday, day after.

male flowers of thorny burnet

female flowers.

Apart from that, what did we see and hear? No luck on gazelles but lots of hyrax activity along valley road.

Birds: a pair of blackbirds foraging in the garden, blackbird song. Graceful warblers very vocal and active, stone curlews friday and saturday evenings getting more and more vocal, large sparrowhawk today about sunset, probably a female, returning from north to forest, chaffinch and chiffchaff contact calls in the pines, great spotted cuckoo calls in north valley, from trees on northern slopes, chukar partridges and little owl also heard. Great tits heard and MAYBE a European robin still, in a place up the bank on the south slopes where I've heard it ticking before.

House sparrows, laughing doves and feral pigeons about the buildings. Today sky totally clear and conditions pleasantly mild. Collared doves on the wire near the north valley path turn off... brief flight call heard, a little cooing and a bird approaching another in a way that suggests courting.

Forgot to mention brief swift call about sunset thursday.

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