WONDERS BY MY WAYSIDE #12 – FLOWERS OF THE FIELD by DEBRA ELFASSY

THE ANEMONE – KALANIT and the CYCLAMEN – RAKEFET

“According to the Bible, the ‘inner’ life of nature is closed to man.
The Bible does not claim that things speak to man; it only claims that things speak to God.
Inanimate objects are dead in relation to man; they are alive in relation to God.
They sing to God.
The mountains melt like wax, the waters tremble at the presence of the Lord.
(Psalm 77:17; 97:5).
Whose ear has heard the trees sing to God?
Has our reason ever thought of calling upon the sun to praise the Lord?
And yet, what the ear fails to perceive, what reason fails to conceive, the Bible makes clear…it is a higher truth, to be grasped by the spirit.
Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these.
The world’s beauty and power are as naught compared to Him.
The grandeur of nature is only the beginning.
Beyond the grandeur is God.”

                                                     ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

I have so enjoyed taking you along with me on my highways and byways of the hillsides in Israel. Were we to record each and every one of the myriad wonders along our way we would surely need eternity to do so. In spite of Israel’s tiny land area, she offers a diverse flora of over 2,500 plant species.

Today we shall ” Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
(Matthew 6:28)

Although springtime here is relatively short, lasting from February to April, during this season the Land explodes with an impressive array of wildflowers, heralded by carpets of Anemones and Cyclamens. The exhibition is perpetuated by the appearance of Irises, Orchids, Wild Hollyhocks, Poppies, Buttercups, Crown Daisies, Field Marigolds, the Syrian Cornflower, and the Lupin.

We Israelis love our wildflowers. Even in pre-school children learn the names of our most common flowers of the field, with songs and stories about them. We shall take leave of this mini-series by focusing on two of Israel’s most beloved: the Kalanit (Anemone) and the Rakefet (Cyclamen).

THE ANEMONE – KALANIT

The name Kalanit derives from the Hebrew word kalah, or ‘bride’ because this striking flower is considered as radiantly beautiful and feminine as a blushing bride on her wedding day.

One of the first flowers to bloom in early spring, and among the most profuse, dotting our fields and hillsides with splashes of scarlet, the Kalanit was chosen to be Israel’s national flower in 2013. It won first place over the beloved Cyclamen and the exotic Purple Iris.

Each year, following the rainy season, the landscape of the Eshkol region of Israel’s southern Negev is transformed into a giant red carpet. Observing this breathtaking phenomenon became such a popular annual event that a festival called Darom Adom (Red South) was birthed to celebrate the spectacle.

A beautiful Hebrew poem about the Kalanit was written in 1945 by Natan Alterman. Its lyrics were sealed for posterity when Israeli singer Shoshana Damari made the song ‘Kalaniyot’ famous. She has a special place in the hearts of Israelis for the beautiful songs of Eretz Israel that she sang to our soldiers during Israel’s many wars.

Here is a translated excerpt from the song:

The evening comes,
the sunset on the hill burns
I am dreaming and my eyes see:
To the valley a small girl descends
and it blazes with a fire of Anemones.

Most insects cannot see the colour red, but one exception is the black beetle that pollinates the Kalanit. The flower’s open scarlet bowl welcomes the clumsy insect to land on its surface and roll to the centre where the pollen is. To keep its pollen dry, the Anemone closes when the sun goes down or when clouds overshadow it. It is not uncommon for these eccentric beetles to jump in just before the petals close, to protect themselves from the rain.

THE CYCLAMEN – RAKEFET

The bashful, delicate Cyclamen, once the unofficial national flower of Israel, is now a protected plant. With its sweetly-scented flowers and long blooming season (from December through April) the Cyclamen can grow either singly or in a carpet of blooms.

Its individual stems have flowers that appear to be upside down, their faces ever so gracefully bowing downward, something no other flower does. Its petals grow upward instead of outward, so that the flowers look like they’re stretching heavenward in adoration. It also has earned the name ‘Solomon’s Crown.’ This unique design protects its delicate stigma and stamens from the winter rains. Its heart-shaped leaves give it a romantic touch.

This unique type of flower is pollinated by large bees performing “buzz pollination” which requires an intentional buzzing that shakes the lower parts of the flower, causing the pollen to be released.

The intense heat and drought of the summer months lead to the demise of the plant’s above-the-soil parts. The fruits are capsules which then curl up in spirals and sink into the earth. The plant survives thanks to its shallow subterranean tubers. 

Naturally, a song needed to be written about the enchanting Cyclamen. ‘Rakefet‘ became an instant and all-time hit in the 1950s when it was sung by singers like Esther Ofarim. Here is a translated excerpt from the song:

From beneath a rock
a very sweet Cyclamen blooms suddenly
And the shining sun kisses and decorates her with a pink crown.
 ‘Cyclamen, Cyclamen’ the bird twitters,
‘Peek at me for a moment.’
But the glorious Cyclamen hides within the
rock, hidden from every living being.

So, what remains is for us to join with nature in this symphony of song.

“We thank Thee Lord for every flower that blooms,
 
Birds that sing, fish that swim, and the light of the moon
We thank Thee every day as we kneel and pray
That we were born with eyes to see these things. “  

                            ( Sung by Jim Reeves, 1960s)

Let us indeed, ” Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion:
B
less the Lord, O my soul.” (Psalm 103:22)

                         Amen.

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