Just For Inspiration – A Self-Guided Tree Tour
If a tree had eyes to see and a mouth to speak, it would surely be a poet or a story-teller. But “what does the tree care?” wrote Hanoch Levin, who understood full well that trees and nature can do without us, but we cannot do without them. “Man sings songs because the tree is green” – meaning, the human spirit needs to be amazed by nature, to create, to live.
So in honor of the upcoming Festival of Trees, we have organized a wonderful opportunity for finding inspiration – a “do-it-yourself” tree tour in the gardens at Ramat Hanadiv. The tour route is natural, accompanied by explanations and spiced with stories. Cut and keep this article to use during your free time, as a family walk on a clear morning, or as a romantic walk on a cloudy day, whatever suits you.
We’ll begin our tour at the entrance plaza to the gardens, where you’ll be welcomed by the Dalbergia sissoo (Indian Rosewood) trees that were, of course, imported to Israel from India, as pioneer trees that grow rapidly and create a green canopy. Granted, this is not the most “attractive” tree in the garden, especially during this season when its leaves fall and allow the rays of the winter sun to reach the garden. But on hot summer days it is green with leaves, shady and cool. This is a very strong tree and the inner part of its trunk is used for making furniture. The trunks of its relatives of the same genus are used for making guitars. Rumor has it that they are also used for making the dashboard of the Rolls Royce. Whoever has such a car is welcome to confirm or refute this rumor.
Still in the plaza, along the length of each side, stand large fir-like trees that resemble the cypress. They are Juniperus virginiana trees that have been growing here since the establishment of the gardens, in 1954, and they are among the only individuals of this species in Israel. How can you distinguish between these rare cedar trees and the familiar cypress? Their fruit are purplish-black and resemble blueberries. When squashed, they release a juice that is traditionally used to flavor gin, which is otherwise tasteless. Close to the stairs near the end of the plaza you’ll find a pair of cedars, male and female. How can we distinguish between them? By the fruit, of course!
To continue our tour we’ll return towards the security guard’s post near the entrance; facing the plaza we’ll take the path leading to the right. After a few steps near a sign reading “meeting point”, we’ll be amazed by the trees planted mainly to the right of the path, with beautiful, unique trunks, some of which rise up from the ground while others grow downward from the branches since they are actually aerial roots. Meet the Ficus obliqua which resembles the magnolia. Do you remember Tarzan swinging from tree to tree through the jungle? He did this with the help of these roots. This tree originates from very humid regions, where the aerial roots are used to absorb water from the humidity in the air. With time they reach the ground, thicken and harden and become supporting trunks. This is an evolutionary development specific to these trees, since humid areas are prone to soil erosion that may affect tree stability. The aerial roots that become trunks give the tree support and stability.
Right opposite the fig trees, to the left of the path, we’ll see impressive trees with barrel-shaped, smooth greenish trunks. This is the Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) that migrated here from Australia. Next to it is its brother, the lacebark tree. When you return in the spring, you’ll find that all of its leaves have fallen and been replaced by impressive pink blooms.
If you are accompanied by small children, now is the time to tell you about the low stone pillars that can be seen along the length of the path. On the top part of each pillar is a leaf in relief. In the InfoShop you’ll be able to buy an activity book called “About the Leaves” with crayons for a small donation. The children will lay the book’s pages over the relief and color the page, thus revealing the leaf and the name of the tree. They’ll gain a souvenir of the trees in the garden, and you’ll gain a few moments of peace and quiet…
We’ll continue along the path leading beyond the palm garden. Along the way, if you drop your glance from time to time towards the ground you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of the cyclamens peeping out from between the trees.
In the palm garden you’ll find an impressive collection of palms from around the world, including: the Mexican fan palm originating from Mexico, the date palm from North Africa, the canary palm from the Canary Islands, the triangle palm from Madagascar and others. Near them you’ll find palm-like plants that are not from the palm family, but resemble them in appearance. One example is the Nolina recurvata. You’ll be able to see it if you enter the inner path of the palm garden; it is shaped like a small, cute-looking palm, with a trunk that is widest at its base, like an inverted funnel. To the adults among us their shape will certainly be reminiscent of Hershey “kisses”.
For the next part of our tour we’ll return to the main path of the palm garden and continue north towards the rose garden until we see to our right the second entrance to the garden that leads to the picnic area. To the left of this entrance, right opposite us we’ll see a particularly impressive tree in terms of both size and beauty, the Podocarpus elongatus. It originates from South Africa, but its delicate foliage rather resembles Japanese trees. The tree’s volume is so impressive, like a giant shrub that the children will find ideal for playing hide-and-seek.
Now we’ll cross the rose garden and continue westwards. Along the way we’ll see tree trunks lying on the ground. They are not there by chance. These trunks are left to allow the ecosystem to continue performing the natural breakdown process, which benefits the soil and its ecological texture. Now is the time to add that during your visit in the garden, from time to time you’ll discover trees undergoing treatment by the “orthopedic department” of Ramat Hanadiv. For example, about 50 meters from the western exist of the rose garden you’ll be able to do the mitzvah of visiting the sick to a mastic tree with one branch supported by a crutch to prevent it from collapsing. A permanent threaded rod joining the two parts of the trunk saves its life.
Further along the path, just after it curves to the left, you’ll be met on both sides by veritably glowing trees. These are Chinese weeping cypress trees. Their glowing, romantic appearance resembles a dress fluttering in the breeze. Its branches grow horizontally or point upwards, but the branchlets, that produce light green or gray-green foliage, point downwards and create its downcast, weeping appearance. This is the origin of its name. Its Latin name, Cupressus, is taken from Greek mythology that tells of Syphrysos, a young boy who accidentally killed a dear that he dearly loved and was full of very deep remorse. The god Apollo who loved the boy turned him into a tree bearing his own name.
We’ll leave the romance and continue towards the Cascade garden. In the garden’s center, along the two sides of the terraces, are the striking Dracaena draco trees that resemble cacti and originate from the Canary Islands. Despite their woody appearance they are not actually trees but tall, tree-like herbaceous plants. Despite its size, the ‘trunk’ of the dragon tree is not the same as a tree trunk. Such a trunk is technically called a ‘pseudostem’ (trunk-like stem). When the pseudostem is damaged it exudes a red liquid sap. The red sap is used for preparing dyes and nail polish, and also as food coloring, especially in toothpaste. The sap is also used for treating wounds and burns, bringing us back to Greek mythology. Do you remember Hercules and the 12 labors he was charged with because of his sins? In the 11th task he was asked to bring three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides (nymphs of the sunset). This garden is located beyond the Atlas Mountains, surrounded by the ocean that encompasses the world. To enter the garden Hercules had to fight the garden’s guard – Ladon, a dragon with a thousand heads. Hercules defeated him and cut off all of his heads. The dragon’s blood flowed out and filled the garden, which produced dragon trees whose blood (their sap) is dragon’s blood. For many years, the Pillars of Hercules, known to us as the Straits of Gibraltar, deterred the Greeks’ ships, but those who dared cross them to the Canary Islands saw the dragon tree and believed that the islands were the Garden of the Hesperides. They considered the red sap to be “dragon blood” and they attributed mythical and medicinal qualities to it. Charles Darwin was also affected by the dragon trees. In his writings, the Canary Islands appear as the first station in his travels, where he first met the dragon trees, which in time provide him with the first ideas that developed eventually into the theory of evolution.
Returning to the dragon trees in the garden, we’ll notice that the row of dragon trees on the south-facing slope is taller. To date no proven scientific answer has been found for this phenomenon, but it is assumed to be related to small scale differences in climatic conditions – the microclimate. The south-facing site receives more sunlight and this may be the reason for the difference.
We’ll continue meandering along the path until after the small turn to the left where an impressive avenue of carob trees begins. At the end of the lawn a different, unique part of the garden comes into view. This is a plot of native Israeli woodland, where you’ll meet the local band that includes Palestine oak, holm oak, Mt Atlas mastic tree, carob and others. Areas of native woodland, that are not usually irrigated, are integrated into about 50% of the landscaped gardens. The combination of domesticated vegetation and natural vegetation, which juxtaposes meticulous landscaping with wild areas, is part of the rationale to connect people to the location, environment and regional texture. The path leads us back to the gardens’ entrance and the end of the tour.