Naama Barak
March 18

When Eran Sapir, a nature enthusiast from Ma’ale Mikhmas in the Judean Desert, hiked around the area a couple of weeks ago, he came across an unusual-looking shrub. So unusual, that he decided to go back at a later date to inspect it more carefully — and he found out that it was actually a near-extinct wild almond shrub.

“I got there before Shabbat with my dad, and I saw a retama shrub from afar. It looked very different to me, but because we didn’t have enough time, we decided to go back first thing on Sunday morning so that I’d make it in time for school. We went back there, and after 20 minutes I found it, just before flowering,” Sapir shares.

“For a while, I kept on going back to the stream with my father and brother, and we found another shrub in bloom. On yet another tour of the area, we found another one blooming right now. It’s an extraordinary find. Very rare and very special,” he adds.

A rare example of Amygdalus Arabica growing in the Judean Desert. Photo by Eran Sapir
A rare example of Amygdalus Arabica growing in the Judean Desert. Photo by Eran Sapir

The shrub that Sapir found is an Amygdalus Arabica, a sort of wild almond shrub that is native to certain parts of the Middle East. It is characterised by thin green branches that don’t have leaves for most parts of the year, but which are covered by little almond flowers when in bloom.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), where Sapir plans on becoming a guide, notes that the almond species Amygdalus includes around 36 types of shrubs and trees that can be found from Central Asia all the way to Europe. The Amygdalus Arabica, meanwhile, was first discovered in Israel in 1977, but in recent years has become a rare sight.

“The Amygdalus Arabica is a tree that can be found in the mountains of Turkey and Iran, and there’s a few examples also in Jordan, where it is incredibly rare and on the verge of extinction,” explains SPNI’s Ohad Binyamini.

“In the past, there were a number of reports about Amygdalus Arabica in the eastern streams of the Binyamin region, but for the last few years we only knew about two such items, which grew not far away from each other in the Mikhmash stream that flows into the Prat stream,” he adds.

Student discovers rare wild almond shrubs in the desert
A rare wild almond shrub dangles off a cliff in the desert. Photo by Amit Mendelson

“Around two years ago, probably as the result of overgrazing in the area, one of the shrubs died and we were left with only one shrub, dangling off the cliffs of the Mikhmash stream,” Binyamini concludes. “Eran’s discovery is important and very interesting, and I hope that tools will be found to preserve the limited population of the Amygdalus Arabica in Israel, for the benefit of future generations.”

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