MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Early Wednesday morning Yoav had a special mission to perform before we began our fieldwork. He had been asked by a botanist to get a sample of a new species of plant endemic to Makhtesh Ramon. The botanist needed it for a DNA study to confirm the species designation and link it to other related plants. This plant is a member of the Capparis genus, the most common species of which (Capparis spinosa) is a common site in our Negev field areas. C. spinosa is shown above growing in cracks of a limestone outcrop in Wadi Neqarot. (Remember that lifestyle!) The common names for the plant are the Thorny Caperbush or just Caperbush. This is where capers grow. Who knew? Here are Yoav and Yacov looking at a specimen of the new species of Capparis. It grows only on the thin soil developed from gypsum exposures in the Triassic section of Makhtesh Ramon. This sulfate-rich sediment is very difficult for other plants to take root, so this species has some valuable adaptations to the geochemistry. Note there are very few other plants around it. The plant shows mostly dead growth from previous years, with the spring sprouting visible in the lower left. Yoav is cutting some sprigs for the sample. There are several other plants in the vicinity, so we’re not endangering the species! All for science.
The cuttings of the Capparis plant. Note the recurved spines beneath the branching points for the leaves. For some reason the botanist wanted these samples wrapped in newspaper, not placed in a plastic bag.
Now where have we seen these caper bushes before? Why in the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I’ve wondered what these are and where they come from. Turns out they are natives of the Middle East and particularly like growing in the cracks of limestone walls, either natural or artificial. Cool.