Opuntia ficus-indica, commonly known as the sabra, is a form of prickly pear cactus and is practically the national plant of Israel. This large stand near Be'eri, better than twice my height, has clearly been enjoying the recent rains. The grass seems out of place, though. 2005:02:19 13:30:30
A couple of weekends a year, generally in mid- to late-February, half of Israel takes to the highways and strikes out for the desert. This time around, I was one of them. On the heels of the brief annual desert monsoon, all manner of magnoliophyta are desperately at work generating a fresh year's supply of dormant seed. For a couple of weeks, the desert was in bloom, and no good Israeli was going to miss their chance to gawk and trample.
A native-born Israeli is sometimes called a sabra, after the sabra cactus, a close cousin of the prickly pear cactus common back home in the drier parts of America. Supposedly they're prickly and tough, but sweet inside. I think so far I've only had dealings with the outside parts. While this is a sort of cactus given to stands of respectable size, this bush is certainly one of the larger that I've run across. I should have thrown someone in so the picture would have some scale. Suffice to say, the upper bits are four or five meters high.
An anemone coronaria bloom beside a dry thorny bramble that is the more typical vegetation of the area. 2005:02:19 10:40:17
At the height of the great flower outings, my officemate declared the first Astro-Tiyul for our department. (Tiyul is a Hebrew word for, as best I can translate, a nature walk.) On a Saturday morning in late February we piled into cars and sped south. Until we ran into all the other cars, crawling south as well. A popular Israeli website had evidently announced the very park we were heading for as the top destination for the weekend, and it would seem the advice was widely heeded. So, upon arriving at the Pura Nature Reserve we, along with several thousand others, tromped off over the suprisingly verdant hills to experience the greenery. Thankfully most of them had the sense to keep mainly to the paths, so there was still some left for us.
The most famous and sought-after flower of this season is Anemone coronaria. It's common name is the poppy anemone, but I much prefer what you get if you translate the Greek and Latin roots of its name: the crowned windflower. A striking flower singly, the Israeli Negev is supposedly one of the few places where it ever blooms in large numbers.
A motley collection of ne'er-do-wells from my department wading through a wheat field. This is theoretically a short-cut. 2005:02:19 11:07:19