Walking the labyrinth. Photo by Viva Sarah Press
Walking the labyrinth. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

With 60 percent of its land desert, it’s quite amazing that Israel is one of the world’s few countries to enter the 21st century with a net gain in trees. And while picnicking in one of the many forests spread around the country is a favorite pastime, if you haven’t visited the Ilanot Forest yet, add it to your to-do list today.

This little forest — or more accurately, arboretum — on the outskirts of Kadima is Israel’s only one of its kind. You’ll find more than 750 species of trees here, many that are totally incongruous with the land and climate.

Obviously, tree buffs could spend days here. But Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has developed this spot as an amazing (and easy) recreation outing for the general public as well.

It is here at the Ilanot Forest that my three children learned about the QR Code. In front of the trees are signposts with the name of the tree and a Quick Response Code that leads you to a webpage with information about the tree.

We usually bar the use of tablets or smartphones on our frequent nature trips, but this excursion called for breaking the rules. I have never seen my kids get so excited about trees as they were scanning the matrix barcodes and finding out the origins of these oxygen-makers.

We saw the Japanese sago palm, a variety of eucalyptus trees, an Australian conifer, a Chilean mesquite tree, an American cypress and others.

This botanical garden for trees was founded in the 1950s by the Forest Research Department of the Israel Ministry of Agriculture as an experiment to see which trees would grow best in Israel. The site was called Ilanot, the Hebrew word for trees.

Ilanot was a center for forestry research for some 30 years and drew both local and international students, landscape architects and nature buffs. But in 1986 the Forest Research Department closed down and Ilanot was abandoned. Fortunately, in 2013 KKL-JNF decided to restore this magical garden.

The 130-dunam area now has wheelchair-accessible pathways running through it, information plaques, picnic tables and flower trails, plus a labyrinth and a Casuarina Circle.

The Casuarina Circle offers a secluded place for meeting and meditation. Photo by Viva Sarah Press
The Casuarina Circle offers a secluded place for meeting and meditation. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

My kids spent hours running and biking in and around the easy-to-navigate labyrinth of concentric circles made of two kinds of shrubs. Inside the maze are posters of famous trees from around the world.

Diagonal to the maze is the Casuarina (she-oak) Circle, a shaded secluded little patch of forest that could be great for secret club meet-ups or meditation.

And perhaps the best, most unusual, part of our outing was that there was no gazlan (rip-off artist) to ruin the quiet with an annoying tune announcing the arrival of overpriced popsicles.

For more information and opening times about Ilanot Forest, click here.