Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Every winter, my family joins the thousands of other Israelis who make the yearly pilgrimage to see the fields of wildflowers. This is a uniquely Israeli cultural phenomenon. Israelis are willing to drive an hour to walk through a field of cyclamens or anemones. Both adults and children enthusiastically take photos of the flowers and compete to name the various species. Before making Aliyah, I never saw such enthusiasm for wildflowers. On my first winter hike in Israel, I was tempted to pick the beautiful flowers, only to be reprimanded by a group of Israeli children, “Don’t pick the flowers. They're protected!” Since then, I have become familiar with the phrase, “Perach mugan” (protected flower) and I have started celebrating Israel's wildflowers in my art.
Where does this cultural enthusiasm for wildflowers come from? Well, Israelis do have something to be proud of. There are close to 2,300 species of plants in Israel and many species can only be found in Israel, and nowhere else in the world. In comparison, England is six times larger than Israel but only has 1,750 species.
Israel also has a rich history when it comes to wildflower protection. Fifty years ago, Israelis loved to pick wildflowers. In his autobiography, Israeli environmentalist Azaria Alon wrote, “Every parent and teacher encouraged the children to pick flowers. Children stood at the roadsides selling bouquets of anemones, narcissi, and cyclamens. Flower-shop owners went into the field and picked the flowers themselves or sent people to do it.” As a result, several wildflower species were facing extinction.
This environmental threat prompted one of the most successful environmental campaigns in Israel’s history. In the 1960s, a handful of determined individuals from The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Nature Reserves Authority succeeded in changing the behaviour of the general public. Firstly, they succeeded in getting dozens of wildflower species protected under the law. And secondly, they launched an advertising campaign to persuade people to stop picking the flowers. The campaign was successful because it revolved around environmental education for children. The children then taught their parents.
Flowers that were on the verge of extinction like the irises and tulips began to proliferate. The effects of this legendary campaign can still be felt today, fifty years later. I recommend joining a group of Israelis, on their yearly wildflower expedition, to experience this cultural phenomenon.