Plant life in Be’er-Sheva
There is a prevalent misconception that semi-arid desert areas are ‘baren’ and ‘lifeless’, but nothing could be farther from the truth! Be’er-Sheva is teeming with self-sustaining, indigenous plant life and non-indigenous, climate-appropriate vegetation, as well as some invasive, alien species of flora. In fact, as of the 2016 Survey, entitled Be’er-Sheva Municipal Nature Survey, at least 578 species of plants (grasses, bushes and trees) were observed in the Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area (all of which are able to withstand the desert’s extreme temperatures, high solar radiation & saline soils, and survive on low water consumption), plus ca.20 more rare, protected & endangered, species—bringing the total number of plant species to 598!
Presently, of all the 598 local plant species, there are about 45 alien (non-invasive & invasive) species of plants found in the Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area, some that arrived by acccident and others by design.
Certain specific non-indigenous but climate-appropriate plants were deliberately brought to Be’er-Sheva, relocated from across Israel and/or imported from places all over the world that share similar climatic conditions: Australia, Latin American, South Africa, etc. Indeed, now, thanks to innovations such as: computerized drip-irrigation systems (originating from “Netafim” at nearby Kibbutz Hatzerim); excellent eco-friendly fertilizers (originating from the nearby Dead Sea Works); water desalination and/or purification & recycling (by local and nearby water-conversion plants); and plant-species’ hybridization or genetic modification (based on research done at the BGU French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands)–even nonindigenous plants and trees that used to grow only at higher altitudes or under more gentle climatic conditions may grow and thrive in Be’er-Sheva given basic care.
A certain number of non-indigenous, invasive species of flora that have made themselves at home here, with or without human help, are welcome, but some are nuisances or pose threats to the local habitats; hopefully, they will be dealt with sooner, rather than later…
Indigenous flora include flowers, such as: the lilac– or white-colored sand flower Colchicum ritchii R.Br.; the red Tulipa systola Stapf; the pink Dianthus judaicus Boiss (clove); the white Salvia dominica L. (sage); the red Anemone coronaria (Asian buttercup); also thistles & briars, like the common Centaurea; and cacti, like the Opuntia cactus (Heb., tsabar; Prickly pear); and various Middle Eastern herbs & spices, such as: Summer savory (Heb., za’atar); Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary); and lots of others. There are also numerous other shrubs, bushes & vines, such as: all-season, many-colored Bougainvilleas; and the white or yellow Jasmine; and grapes galore, to name just a few. And indigenous trees (some even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible), for instance: Acacia, Carob, Date palm, Ficus, Fig, Jubjube, Olive, Tamarisk, Terebinth, and the reinstated pink–flowered Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree); etc.
Some illustrations of flowers, bushes & vines:
Some illustrations of trees:
Alien flora include imported vines like: the Australian Einadia nutans (Climbing saltbush) with its red fruits (a delicacy for birds) and red–flowered Callistemon phoenicus (Scarlet Bottlebrush); and the exotic Latin American climbing purple Passiflora (Passionfruit) and Mexican purple Tradescantia pallida (Wandering Jew, Purple queen, heart or secretia), as well as relocated Israeli trees, such as: Cypress, Eucalyptus, Pine & Citrus, and imported ones like: the Brazilian Jacaranda mimosifolia (which sheds beautiful ‘carpets’ of lilac-colored blossoms come the summer heat); and various Asian berry and pink/red/orange-blossomed silk-cotton (charming Bauhinia & prickly Bombax ceiba) trees, as well as the tall, bright-red-flower-crowned Royal Poinciana shade trees–to name just a few examples.
Several examples of local, invasive flora are: the Acacia victoriae and Eucapylptus calmaldulensis trees (mistakenly planted by the JNF); the Washingtonia filifera (Desert fan) palm tree; the Bassia indica (Indian bassia) bush; the prolific weed Conyza bonariensis (hairy fleabane); and the pretty, but toxic, prickly, sticky two-tone yellow/pink flowered Lantana camara shrub that spreads like wildfire—a favorite of the humming birds.
Six rare & endangered plant species in the Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area are: the purple Allium kollmannium (Kollmann garlic); the brown Iris atrofusca (Dark-brown iris); the yellow Astragalus caprinus (Be’er-Sheva milk-vetch); the Allium papilare (Negev garlic), which is white with a purple stripe; also the very rare beige Garhadiolus angulosus (Desert gradiolus); and the whiskered yellow & green Onosma aleppica (Aleppo onosma).
In Be’er-Sheva (where there are never enough trees and never enough shade), ‘mature trees’ (legally defined as trees over 2 meters tall with a trunk width of at least 10 cm, measured at the height of 130 cm) are protected and may not be chopped down unless deemed dangerous to the public at large. The 2016 Be’er-Sheva Municipal Nature Survey identified ca.132 mature trees within the city limits. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old, like the ca.700-year-old Olive tree at the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering.
A couple illustrations of mature trees:
In the Hebrew Bible (Genesis II:15), the first commandment God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden was “to care for and protect the Garden.” Nowadays, if Humanity is to survive on Earth, we too must not remain passive, but rather act in eco-friendly ways.
The “2020 Metropolitan Be’er-Sheva Plan” intends to complete the renovation of the old neighborhoods and infrastructures, to fill in empty lots with highrises, playgrounds & parks, to develop urban ‘green lungs’ and provide more shade & cover for pedestrians, while not destroying the unique loess habitat within the Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area. Amen to that!
The Statutory Municipal Committee for the Environment includes 2 representatives of the local citizenry and 1 delegate from each local green organization, in addition to members of all the relevant municipal departments and environmental agencies and meets at least 3 times a year. The State of Israel holds an annual “Israel Week of Love for Nature, Water & the Environment” at the end of March or beginning of April.
The Municipal Unit for the Environment deals with local problems and provides research and consultation to the Municipality – 08-6463987.
“Green” organizations in Be’er-Sheva
In June 2021, the Israel Ministry for the Protection of Nature established the International Center for Climate Change in Desert Regions (DeserTech) at BGU, together with the Be’er-Sheva Municipality, the Soroka Medical Center, the Israel Center for Innovation and support from the “Mirage” Foundation.
The Moshe Dadon Municipal Pedagogical Farm (founded 1990) is located on the Batz Compound found between the Airforce Technological College, Kfar Rafael Remedial Community & the NegevZoo above the Ne’ot Lon neighborhood. The farm has instructional classrooms as well as fields, orchards, hothouses and plant nurseries for practical hands-on experience. Eight teachers teach agriculture and environmental sciences to ca.46 elementary-school classes from various local schools, run joint projects with the JNF, and supervize high-schoolers majoring in agriculture or ecology – 08-6419519; Manager, Rafi Haddad, 053-7955652.
The Be’er-Sheva Green Association (founded 1999) consists of volunteers who initiate various projects to improve the environment and quality of life in the city: neighborhood clean-up campaigns; helping the elderly & needy with repairs & renovations; teaching environmental awareness & proper nutrition in the schools; sometimes representing Be’er-Sheva at relevant Knesset meetings in Jerusalem; etc. Founder Haim Adiri – 08-6424806; Itsik Helman – 052-6620300; Ethelea Katzenell – 077-4180008.
Earths’ Promise (founded 2007) is an eco-social, educational NPO, located in the Gimel neighborhood at the Kalisher Ethiopian Absorption Center, that created and manages the successful Kalisher Community Garden; the Community Composting Network; the Food Forest Project; the Gimel Produce Urban Organic Farm; the Green Van Project; and develops & oversees community gardens across the Negev Region. It serves as a ‘green‘ consultant for the Municipality regarding self-sustaining urban agriculture, local produce, composting, etc. – http://www.earthspromise.org, Michal 054-8339449.
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI, founded 1953), Be’er-Sheva Community offers educational outdoor activities, has field schools and leads Nature hikes for school children and the general public. It was instrumental in establishing the Be’er-Sheva Ring Trail; is also active in several community gardens; and provides valuable research and surveys of the flora, fauna & natural habitats in the Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area, serving as an ecological consultant to the Municipality for purposes of urban planning and ‘greening’ the city – 08-6230555, http://www.teva.org.il.
Eco-education and promotion of environmental awareness
In 2021, two 11th grade women students in the biotechnology track at the Makif Aleph High School, Rotem Na’aman and Elinor Gradstein represented the city of Be’er-Sheva at the U.N. in the “Development of Sustainability Competition” by presenting the ISDG (“Israel Sustainable Development Goals”) Program developed in Israel.
In 2014, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Marcus Family Campus was internationally recognized as a “green campus” rated no. 24 (among 362 “green” universities around the world) by UI GreenMetric. BGU has a dedicated Green Council. For example, BGU offices use both sides of each leaf of paper before recycling it; climate-appropriate grass & gardens that are not watered midday; lighting that is mostly energy-conserving LED; and accessible recycling bins. BGU offers a B.Sc. in Environmental Studies and a M.Sc. in Energy Engineering, as well as many other “green” courses. Some student eco-activists also belong to the Be’er-Sheva “Green Trend” Cell (founded 1997).
The Sami Shamoon College of Engineering (SCE) has a special Green Processes Center (founded 2004) that educates for sustainable development, clean technology, “green” engineering & chemistry and also runs an awareness-building Green School for children. SCE Prof. (and poet) Adi Wolfson developed the first “green” preschool curriculum in Israel and published books on the environment in Hebrew & English, most recently a Hebrew book entitled: Toward sustainability (2016; that I hope to translate into English before the end of 2018, God willing). SCE was chosen in 2008 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (from among 60 Israeli colleges and universities) to get the national “Green Campus” Award.
The “Magen” Special Education School for developmentally mentally disabled young people (ages 6-21), located in the Vav neighborhood, has a therapeutic greenhouse – 08-6277126. Natural surroundings and gardening are known to be very soothing and therapeutic.
For more eco-education and environmental awareness, please go to the “Climate Reality Project” Internet website.
Eco-activism and eco-friendly behavior:
Planting – Every year in the spring, Jews in Israel celebrate Tu bi-Shevat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, usually in February) as New Years Day for the Trees; this is primarily done by the planting of trees. Everyone can take part in the “greening” of Be’er-Sheva. Residents who live in apartments, but would like to plant a garden, may turn to City Hall and join the “A garden for every resident” Project; the city has reserved an area in the Ne’ot Lon neighborhood for the cultivation of personal gardens on request. If every Be’er-Sheva resident with a garden plants only climate-appropriate, non-invasive greenery and/or herbs, spices, fruit trees, etc.; if every building that has its own plot of land (kindergartens, schools, old age homes, public institutions, residential highrises, etc.) fills it with colorful, shade-giving trees; if citizens continue to lobby the Municipality to development more public parks and ‘green lungs’ in the city and to plant more shade-trees along the sidewalks … Every green deed, even small eco-actions make Be’er-Sheva more beautiful, more comfortable, and more self-sustaining!
Watering – Know that, as part of the effort to conserve drinking water, most of the water being used in the many water features across the city and to irrigate the public parks is tertiary-treated water from the local sewage recycling plant (and is NOT fit for drinking). Individuals and institutions that wish to garden and conserve water should invest in a computerized drip-irrigation system (from “Netafim”), set to water the appropriate amount only at night (in accordance with conservation laws). Also, cars, sidewalks, etc. should NOT be washed wastefully using water hoses, but rather by using a pail of water and a long mop (in accordance with Municipal regulations, unless a high-pressure hose & tertiary-treated water are being used, as in the car-washes and industry). Water can be saved at home by installing “Haskhamim” (water-saving devices) on all water faucets – available at ‘do-it-yourself’ & home improvement stores.
Keeping the city clean and recycling – Please throw all trash in trash cans or waste bins. Recycle everything you can at the neighborhood recycling centers: plastics (holey metal bins), paper & carton (blue bins), non-refundable glass (purple bins), packaging (orange bins); used clothing (gray bins), etc. Used batteries can be recycled at the post offices or at the BGU Aranne Library. Used clothing can also be donated to Wizo (corner of Rager Blvd. & Weizman St., 08-6277714) or the used-clothing bazaar on the BGU Campus in the Gorovoy Building (#30). Useless electronic equipment can also be recycled on the BGU Campus in a special bin at the left rear corner of the Zlotowski Student Center (#70). Construction debris/building materials are removed by “Veolia” Services; order their ‘bigbags’ or a container when you do building or renovations – 08-6274575, 08-6282890. “International Cleanup Day” is on October 31st every year. The first neighborhood cleanup competition in Be’er-Sheva was organized by one of its first “green” activists, Ethelea Katzenell, in 1972 in the Aleph neighborhood, who also later promoted the plastic & paper recycling with Joan Avigur. I was also among the first people in Be’er-Sheva to put solar-panels on the roof of my home, to become a producer of “green” electricity.
Harvesting – Every year in the fall, right before the Sukkot (Tabernacles) holiday, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev crops all its date palms, and all are welcome to carry off large fronds, rife with ripe dates. Also, every year at the start of winter, Earth’s Promise gathers volunteer olive pickers to cultivate the olives from more than 1,000 trees found in small groves across Be’er-Sheva (notably in front of City Hall and on the BGU Campus). The pickers are later awarded a small bottle of very good, locally pressed olive oil from the crop. Volunteers to work at the Organic Produce Farm in Gimel at Kalisher are welcome all year round; the organic produce is sold there every week – http://www.shadama.org.il, www.earthspromise.org.
Reporting – ‘Good Samaritans’ are asked to report if they happen to recognize an endangered plant, to please immediately call and notify the SPNI of its location – 08-6230555. Moreover, eco-active citizens are asked to help out in maintaining a safe, healthy environment by monitoring and reporting dangers, infractions, etc. observed in Be’er-Sheva to the Municipal Hotline – dial 106. For example, dangerous pits in the streets or sidewalks; pools of stagnant water (that breed mosquitos); foliage or other things blocking sidewalks and passages (causing people to go into the traffic or blocking traffic); downed electric lines; rusty fences, abandoned cars & other objects in public places (e.g., schools, playgrounds, that can cause tetanus); public facilities that are NOT handicapped-accessible; endangered buildings with large cracks; bad smells in the air; very loud noises; unmuzzled loosed or wild dogs (may be rabid); rat infestations; and so forth and so on… Everyone can participate in ‘tikun olam’ (Heb. repairing the world) to make it a better place.
To learn more about becoming an eco-activist and helping to bring about actual change, please go to the “Climate Reality Project” Internet website.
Be’er-Sheva‘s first resident “green” architect, Matti Kones, and his firm “Kones Architects,” plans “green” architecture and settlements, using eco-friendly materials. He won the Jeffrey Cook Prize for Desert Architecture in 2012 – 08-6277126. e’er-Sheva‘s first “green” building, the Makleff House, was completed by the Delouya Group in 1963 to house the offices of Bromine Compounds.
Be’er-Sheva‘s first “green” mall in Israel, the huge (160,000 sq m) red“Ofer Grand Mall” was opened in 2013. It was designed and built by the very large Israeli firm of Moore-Yaski-Sivan Architects, and is considered the largest mall in Israel to date.
The eternal light, traditionally located above the Torah ark (housing the sacred scrolls of the Hebrew Bible), in the “Eshel Avraham” Conservative Community Synagogue is solar-powered, so it’s always lit, even during ordinary power outages.
At the Soroka-University Medical Center (from 2017-) one can see an exhibit of mosaics on the subject of ecology in the corridor leading to the Medical Services Building.