A Negev Desert Botanical Garden


Tulipa systola chosen as the emblem for the

Negev Desert Botanical Garden

The Negev desert in southern Israel is a remarkable arid region which forms part of the great Saharo-Arabian desert belt which extends from the Sahara and the Atlantic seaboard on the west side of Africa, across the Arabian desert to the desert of Sind in India in the east. Comparatively small, the Negev has had, however, an intriguing history of settlers, occupiers and passers through including Nabateans, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, British, Bedouin and Israelis. This rich socio-historical tapestry is linked to a landscape that is well endowed with historical sites, sublime landscape scenery and a robust and varied fauna and flora. The great variety of wildlife to be found here is intricately woven into the past and present of the landscape that results from an interaction between the people, the geography and climate.

Pistacia Pistacia atlantica growing at approximately 1000 metres in the Negev Highlands near the ancient well of Hemet. This majestic Irano-Turanian species is found here at the western limit of its range. A majestic species it is adapted to the cold winter temperatures found in this region. The trees are located thinly spread out along narrow rocky wadis.
Polygonum Polygonum equisetiforme is found in most parts of the Negev especially in wadis and basin areas that collect additional water when it rains. At the end of summer the stems can turn an intense purple-mauve colour which create striking displays in the harsh landscape. The species flowers mainly at the end of winter but can flower intermittently throughout the yea

The interesting variety of plant species to be found in the region is due to the fact that the Negev is not a heterogeneous desert. In fact it is quite the opposite, as it consists of many varying desert types. The area ranges in elevation from sea level along the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Eilat, to over 1000m in the Negev Highlands. To the east, the land drops to minus 400m at the lowest place on earth at the Dead Sea.

The plants of the Negev belong to 4 main phytogeographic types. These are:

Pancratium Pancratium sickenbergeri is a small Saharo-Arabian species. Here it is shown growing in the loessal soils of the northern Negev. The flowers are similar in appearance to the Mediterranean species Pancratium maratimum, but the leaves of P. sickenbergeri are curly and the plant is much smaller. Unusually for the desert, the seeds are distributed by floodwaters when they occur in the winter.
Sternbergia Sternbergia clusiana is a relict species that has survived in isolated pockets in the Negev. This geophyte has remarkable butter yellow flowers that appear in the autumn. The flowers emerge before the leaves and create an unforgettable spectacle in the harsh environment. It is an eastern Mediterranean and western Irano-Turanian species.

The xerophytic plant species include trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, geophytes and parasites growing in a variety of soils where moisture is hard to come by and where salinity levels may be very high. In fact some of the halophytic species actually grow in the waters of the Dead Sea where saline levels are far above the saline levels of normal seawater.

The Reasons for a Botanical Garden in the Negev

The endemic plants of the Negev are largely ignored in new landscape and environmental proposals and although a great deal of knowledge has been accumulated about the different species, their robust and aesthetic qualities are often disregarded and the plants are passed over for foreign species. This impacts on the local ecology and landscape character and landscape quality of the region.

The impetus for a botanical garden in the Negev stems from completed PhD research undertaken by the author of this web site, Dr. Benz Kotzen. The PhD centres on the use of the indigenous plants of the Negev that will aid sustainable development in the region.

Moricandia Moricandia nitens is a Saharo-Arabian shrub that grows within groups in a number of locations across the Negev. Standing 30-60 cm. tall this attractive species has small fleshy simple leaves and very attractive pink flowers. The distinctive four petals cover the plant from December to April, but flowering can occur in all but the hottest months. It grows mainly on stony ground.
Thymelea Thymelea hirsuta is a medium sized shrub from the Mediterranean and Saharo-Arabian phytogeographic regions. This attractive green species has small yellow flowers mainly from March to July. The stems of the plants are extremely fibrous and the Bedouin use the stems to create rope. It grows mainly in the western and northern Negev on sandy and stony soils up to 1.8 metres tall.

The setting up of a botanical garden is seen to be a necessary step towards the greater understanding and use of indigenous plants in the Negev and indeed in desert areas around the world. A Negev desert botanical garden would provide an important focus for desert plant conservation, information, research and education in many fields including botany, environmental science and landscape architecture. It is envisaged that there would be close links to local educational establishments such as the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and other botanic gardens.

A Negev botanical garden will also provide great opportunities for learning at secondary and primary school levels and would also be a major attraction for local people and Israeli and foreign tourists alike. The botanical garden would provide a further link in the strategic development of the region that is advancing fairly rapidly at the moment. The centre could provide a focus for new development and provide employment and educational facilities and opportunities for a number of people.

Further Reasons - Peace in the Region - The Botanical String of Pearls

The biblical garden of Eden, (although more like a region) was a paradise, a place of peace and tranquility. Most gardens and botanical gardens as well, have these key traits of peace and tranquility and it is but a short step to realise that the establishment of a Negev Desert Botanical Garden, (NDBG), could help to promote peace and tranquility in the region. Thus the establishment of the NDBG could be one part of a series of desert botanical 'peace' gardens throughout the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa with links to other desert botanical gardens around the world.  The creation of these gardens will create educational, commercial and cultural links at all levels, through inception and creation and throughout the life of the gardens.

The objectives of the botanical gardens are also to provide a bases for education of desert plants at all levels, as well as providing gardens/parks which visitors and local people can enjoy.  The focus would be on desert plants and the gardens would act as a centre for plant conservation, study and education for scientific and aesthetic purposes. The botanical aims are as follows:

Anabasis Anabasis articulata is a characteristic species of the world's old deserts and is common in the Sahara Desert. It grows in a variety of locations, on sand, in gravel wadis and ravines and on chalk slopes. The jointed branches are fat with a diameter of 3-5mm and the flowers are overshadowed by the pink or yellow bracts which appear in the autumn.
Phlomis Phlomis brachyodon is a herbaceous perennial that is woody at the base. The plant's leaves vary in winter and summer. Winter leaves are green and summer leaves are covered with coarse, woolly, white hairs. Flower heads appear in March. The flowers are yellow and open during April-June. It is an Irano-Turanian species.


There are a number of potential locations for the botanical garden. These are as follows:

• The northern/western Negev area in the vicinity of Kibbutz Revivim and Kibbutz Mashabe Sade, 35 km south of Beer Sheva.

• An area in the Negev Highlands between the town of Yerucham, the Kibbutz and university campus at Sde Boqer and the town of Mizpe Ramon.

• In the vicinity of the southern town of Eilat.

These areas have been identified, as they are strategic locations, with close infrastructure support systems and settled populations. They are also in areas with developed as well as growing tourism infrastructure as well as desert research facilities.



The Form of the Botanical Garden

First and foremost, the proposed botanical garden would be a garden of desert species and it is envisaged that the initial phase and core of the project would centre on the plants of the Negev. The garden would be designed however, to represent other hot and where possible cooler desert environments around the world, and the development of these zones would constitute additional phases of the garden as follows:

The Negev

The North African-Eurasian Zone

• The Mediterranean climate system:- The northern Sahara, northern Arabia and Iranian deserts • The Southern Sahara • The Somali-Shalbi and Southern Arabian climate systems • The Thar Desert • The Turkestan Desert • The Takla-makan and Gobi Deserts

The North American Desert Zone

• The Sonora Desert • The Mojave Desert • The Chihuahua Desert

The South American Deserts

• The Atacama - Peruvian Deserts • The Monte-Patagonian Desert

The South African Desert Zone

• The Namib • The Kalahari • The Karoo deserts •

The Australian Deserts

• The Gibson Desert • The Great Sandy Desert • The Great Victorian Desert • The Simpson Desert • The Sturt Desert •

Initial Ideas

The concept diagram above is based on the the intersection of the golden section, in this case the nautilus spiral and the negev tulip, Tulipa systola which is on of the endemic and most delightful species found in the northern Negev. (Refer to the rollover image below the diagram.)



The concept diagram is transposed into a non site specific plan which illustrates how the different arid regions would be integrated and how the project would be integrated into the background ecological conditions.

Colutea Colutea istria is one of the larger shrubs to be found in the Negev desert. It belongs to the Papilonaceae family and has long arching stems and large yellow flowers. The fruits are also exceptional with large inflated and pointed bladders that remain on the plant for many months. It is a western Irano-Turanian species growing mainly in the Negev highlands and flowers mainly during March-April.
Hyoscamus Hyoscamus desertorum is a Saharo-Arabian annual/biennial of the Solanaceae family. The plant is covered with hairs and the flowers are tightly packed on long stems and are usually concentrated on one side. The flowers project out of large calyx and their colour is creamy yellow with an intense purple throat. It flowers mainly during spring but with intermittent flowers until August.

The Way Forward

This project has attracted many people around the world who have been interested assisting, physically, intellectually and even with the supply of plants material. Although the concept of the project is exciting project, without many more people getting involved and financial help it will remain but a dream. The realisation of a Negev Desert Botanical Garden beyond the conceptual stage requires local, regional and national political interest as well as the will for those involved for the project to succeed. Generous financial support will also be required.

The republication of this web site is seen as the first step towards the project's realisation.

Should you have any interest in being involved in the project, (please note this is at an inception and fund raising stage), or you would like more information regarding the project and its evolution please contact Benz Kotzen at b. kotzen@gre.ac.uk

About Benz Kotzen, the PhD Research and other Interests

I am a consultant landscape architect and proprietor of 'Sustainable Landscape Arch.' ( http://www.sustainablelandscapearch.co.uk ). I also lecture in the School of Architecture and Construction at The University of Greenwich, London, United Kingdom. I teach landscape design as well as landscape assessment. ( http://www.landscape.gre.ac.uk/landscape-architecture-london-staff.html )

The PhD research is titled 'Sustainable Landscape Planting in the Negev Desert'. The main thrust of the research centres on the landscape / environmental / horticultural use of the indigenous plants towards more sustainable development in the region. Current practice promotes the use of foreign species which can have negative effects on local ecologies as well as being detrimental to the landscape character and landscape quality of the Negev. Many foreign species are also water demanding although they are called often termed 'drought tolerant.'

The research has illustrated the existing landscape architectural paradigm is unsustainable and it has suggested an alternative paradigm which retains and enhances ecological and landscape values and that can save on water and maintenance costs. The research notes that nearly 70% of the 163 Negev species investigated have the potential to be used in landscape projects, whilst 99% can be utilised in appropriate semi-natural and natural locations for a variety of environmental purposes.

Other desert and Negev related research interests include the research on the passive delivery of water to plants in desert regions and the potentials for dew in plant survival in the Negev and other arid regions.

I am also co-author of 'Environmental Noise Barriers - A Guide to their Acoustic and Visual Design', published 1999, by E& FN Spon, now Routledge. a revised edition is due 2009.

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Other Arid Land Links

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden ( http://www.australian-aridlands-botanic-garden.org/links/aridla.htm )

Translation into Beloruss by Martha Ruszkowski ( http://blog.1800flowers.com/international/botanicalgarden-be )



Benz Kotzen ( b. kotzen@gre.ac.uk )


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