WONDERS BY MY WAYSIDE # 11 by Debra Elfassy
The Israeli folk saying: “The White Squill blooms and the summer ends” perfectly describes the arrival of this messenger announcing that Autumn is on our doorstep.
The White Squill, Chatzav in Hebrew, appears without warning. One day there’s no sign of it and the next it showcases its full glory. Their appearance provides a welcome sight for eyes weary of the monotony of a landscape mercilessly burnt to a crisp by the blistering heat of a long summer.
Its fluorescent stalk shoots up to a height of up to two metres, giving the plant its most distinctive feature and making it refreshingly conspicuous on the barren landscape. This loftiness is not in vain, for by September the searing heat is broken by gentle mountain breezes. The Squill uses these breezes to gracefully wave back and forth and, in so doing, disseminates its seeds far and wide on the wings of the wind.
The Squill can boast up to 250 blossoms. Its spectacular blooming begins at the bottom of the stem, then a new cluster of some 30 flowers is added every day. These open above the previous ones, which have already begun to wilt.
As few other flowers bloom in Autumn, the Squill enjoys the undivided attention of pollinators. The blossom is filled with nectar and lies unabashedly exposed to a large variety of pollinators, offering no defence mechanism against unwanted “nectar robbers” like ants and flies.
The flower opens in the dark of night at around 1am. Its almost luminous white colour attracts nocturnal insects. It produces its nectar only until 5am. and then remains open all day until around 7pm.
The Chatzav sprouts from a bulb beneath the soil. Carrying the record for being the biggest bulb in Israel, it can reach 25cm in diameter. The Hebrew name Chatzav has the same root as the words for axe and the hewing of wood or rocks. No doubt this came about due to its ability to force its roots and bulb into small cracks in the rocky terrain, further splitting the rocks.
This huge bulb is a storeroom of nutrients and is what enables the plant to survive challenging weather conditions like extreme heat or cold, lack of light and drought. This nutritious storeroom is however also a disadvantage in that it attracts foraging animals like the boar, the deer, the mole rat and the porcupine who have no difficulty digging it up.
However, the Squill has a secret weapon: a repelling toxin in its leaves containing cardiac glycosides and skin irritants. In addition it harbours tiny needles in its tissues which damage the intestinal wall and its blood vessels, releasing the toxins to penetrate the blood system. So, when digging for the Chatzav bulb, one needs to don protective gloves to prevent blistering of the skin. In the Middle Ages this toxin was harnessed and used as a cardiac stimulant and as rat poison.
At the end of spring, when the leaves have wilted, they become toxin-free and animals are then free to chew the leaves enthusiastically.
The Jewish sages record that Joshua ordered the planting of the Squill to mark the territorial borders of the tribes of Israel and to mark the boundaries between neighbouring farms. Its toxic skin irritants discouraged malicious individuals from uprooting the plant, thereby obscuring property borders as forbidden in Deuteronomy 19:14.
According to tradition, the Chatzav is placed in the vicinity of Arab graves in order to protect them. The Bedouin utilise the bulbs to make poison to kill rodents and they believe that a sighting of a profusion of White Squill heralds a rainy winter ahead.
In one experiment during which a bulb was unearthed and divorced from the soil, its food and water content enabled it to bloom rather miraculously for ten years!
The life of the Chatzav can be divided into two stages:
In November its impressive leaves appear, heralding a hibernating stage which lasts through the winter and early spring. The leaves gather nutrients from the sun and rain to fill the bulb until they wilt at the end of spring and then disappear without a trace.
The next sign of life comes with the sudden appearance of its stalk and accompanying magnificent display of blossoms just in time for the Feast of Trumpets and Rosh Hashanah, heralding a new season; the new school year; new beginnings.
So, while the world sleeps, the White Squill blooms. At the darkest hours of the night it blossoms and produces its sweet nectar.
We can glean great encouragement from the lofty Squill. Even the Scriptures attest to the fact that great things can happen in the darkest of nights:
- David said, “Thou hast visited me in the NIGHT.”(Psalm 17:3)….” In the NIGHT His song shall be with me”.(42:8)
- Job in his distress said that God “giveth songs in the NIGHT”.(35:10)
- When Abram expresses his pain at being childless, God promises him that he would indeed bare a son and told him to prepare a sacrifice.
- As NIGHT FALLS and Abram falls into a deep sleep, God confirms the promise of the Land of Israel, defining its borders and sealing it with the covenant of circumcision, the sign of His eternal covenant with Israel.
- After the Philistines had plugged the Hebrew wells, the Lord appeared to Isaac THE SAME NIGHT, saying: ” Fear not for I am with thee, and will bless thee.”(Genesis 26:24)
- To Jacob too God spoke “in the VISIONS OF THE NIGHT…and said fear not to go down to Egypt…I will there make of thee a great nation…and I will surely bring thee up again…”(Genesis 46:2-4)
- The Passover, which heralded freedom and redemption is called “THE NIGHT OF THE LORD”.(Exodus 12:42)
- When the Israelites were sandwiched between the wall of the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptians, “…the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind ALL THAT NIGHT”. ( Exodus 14:21)
- It was by NIGHT that God told Gideon to attack the Midianites; that they had already been delivered into his hand. (Judges 7:9)
- Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet ALL NIGHT.
- Nehemiah rose BY NIGHT to go and view the broken walls of Jerusalem, inspiring him to say ” Let us rise up and build!”
- God spoke to Daniel in his NIGHT VISIONS.
- BY NIGHT the angel opened the prison doors for the Apostles. (Acts 5:19)
- Paul, in a ship tempest-tossed reassured his sailing companions of their survival ” For there stood by me THIS NIGHT the angel of God…saying, Fear not.” (Acts 27 :23,24)
Llet us take leave of the White Squill with the words of David:
“On the glorious splendour of Your majesty, And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5)