Joanna Maissel
Joanna Maissel
A flower a day keeps the doctor away

The beauty of Route 6

Hollyhocks

Who has been stuck in a traffic jam on Route 6 recently?  A better question is probably who hasn’t? Unfortunately, since Corona, the traffic has built up so much that every drive is becoming unbearable.

However, even being stuck on Route 6 has a silver lining and here it is the stunning pink hollyhocks (chotmit) that line the road.  How did they get there? Did they appear there naturally? Was there human intervention?  It started with a man called Tzion who would come every day to where the bulldozers were digging up the land to rescue wildflower bulbs (with the permission of the Society for Protection of Nature). He would load them into his truck to take them to a nursery to nurture and replant them in the wild.  The landscape architects in charge of the project noticed his digging and comings and goings and it was decided that Route 6 would be part of a grandiose ecological rehabilitation project.  Instead of ordering new non-local plants, the original plants would star in the new landscape — a win-win situation.

View from my passenger seat on Route 6

This also means that we get a fantastic array of wildflowers growing in their natural habitat each according to the season.  This starts with the tall and regal white squill (chatzav) in September and continues with the lupines (turmusim) in March and then the hollyhocks which can carry on blossoming all the way through April and May.

A similar project occurred at Park Ariel Sharon (the former Hiriya garbage site) where the mountain was rehabilitated with wild seeds and now the hollyhocks stand tall on top of the 60-meter high mountain with the Tel Aviv skyline as a backdrop. As well as hollyhocks there are also thousands of lupines, their purple providing a stunning contrast to the glowing yellow chrysanthemums (chartzit). Every spring crowds rush to ‘Lupine Hill’ or ‘Givat HaTurmusim’ near Bet Shemesh  to see the stunning array of wild lupines not realizing that they are also growing on top of our old garbage.

On top of the garbage. Park Ariel Sharon

Hollyhocks were originally called vered hakatzir in Hebrew — meaning the ‘rose of the harvest’.  They bear no relation botanically to roses but have the same amount of petals, are of a similar color to roses and they grow during the wheat harvesting period of April and May.  They are now called chotmit in Hebrew. Chotem is another word for nose, and if you look into the middle of the flower it really does have a prominent nose. In English, the ‘holy’ in holly actually got its name because it arrived in England via China from the Holy Land during medieval times.  It was also known as holy mallow because it is from the mallow family.  The species we see here is the chotmit zayfanit — the bristly hollyhock — named because of its hairy stalk.

The ‘nose’ of the hollyhock

There is no doubt that these tall flowers are incredibly eye-catching.  They can grow up to three meters tall and the flowers can get as big as 12 centimeters in diameter.  They mostly blossom in pink in the wild although the cultivated versions are also reds and purples and stunning Bordeaux. The flower opens at various points up and down the stalk, not necessarily in order.

Wild hollyhocks are protected in Israel and therefore mustn’t be picked but if you plant them then nearly every part is edible and has medicinal properties.  The leaves are very large and can be used for stuffing instead of vine leaves, they are quite textured and therefore are good at holding the dressing in salad and they can also be put in soup where they cause the soup to thicken.  The fruit, which replaces the flower, are a type called schizozarp (I just love that name), which is a fruit that breaks down into individual seeds and looks a bit like a loaf of bread.  Medicinally they are known to be great for sore throats, coughs and bringing down the temperature.  They are full of iron, zinc, vitamin A and calcium.

As for the seeds well I recommend just throwing them in your garden and see what comes up next year!

About the Author
I discovered my real passion for nature ten years ago and was lucky to be able to turn it into my career. I am a freelance nature guide at Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Reserve and Park Ariel Sharon. Corona gave me the opportunity to create my own narrative by founding Nature 'n Nosh Israel: A tour experiencing the plants, flowers and trees in the wild Israeli landscape by tasting them, smelling them and hearing their stories. (Facebook: Nature 'n Nosh Israel) I was born in London and made Aliyah 30 years ago. I live in Modiin with my husband, 2 grown up sons, teenage daughter and dog.
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