Joanna Maissel
The answer to life is simply found in nature

The cyclamen (rakefet) is blooming now – let’s learn humility from it.

Go for a walk in any wild forest or green landscape in Israel right now and you’ll see the distinctive ’rakefet’ plant that became King Solomon’s crown
Cylamen in bloom. (courtesy)

Ten years ago, I discovered nature. I had always enjoyed its beauty but I entered a world where I realized that each plant had an identity, a personality, a strength, a history and a story to tell. This lead me to write a monthly flower blog about what about what is blooming in Israel now. I find it such a wonderful way to get to know each flower intimately, find hidden stories about it, use it to delve into the intricacies of the wonders of nature, connect us to the land of Israel and even learn some Hebrew along the way. While the world goes on changing at a crazy pace the flowers will still keep blooming at the same time each year and the previous years blog is just as relevant today as a year ago.

Many moons ago I worked in a flower shop on Palmach Street in Jerusalem. One day an unhappy customer walked into the shop carrying a cyclamen (rakefet). She wasn’t happy because it wasn’t flowering anymore. I offered all sorts of potential solutions despite not having a clue what was wrong with it. She left quite unsatisfied and I felt fairly helpless. Twenty years later I now have a deeper knowledge of the plant and therefore have the answer for her — it simply was no longer the season. As she is also now a very dear friend, I hope she reads this and finally gets her answer.

Go for a walk in any forest or wild landscape in Israel right now and it is hard to miss the little bunches of heart shaped, dark green leaves with distinctive white veins. The cyclamen leaves are the most beautiful leaves in nature because of their intricate patterns. This pattern provides them with their own identikit. Why do prisoners have their fingerprints taken? Because each person has a unique fingerprint that they can be identified by. Every cyclamen plant has its own individual “fingerprint.” Many plants can be growing alongside each other and all the leaves coming out of one bulb will look totally different from the set of leaves coming out of the bulb next to it. A good mindfulness exercise is to sit down next to a crop of plants and compare the patterns in the leaves.

In the past the young leaves were used like grape vine leaves and would be stuffed with meat and rice; however, it now has “protected flower” status and therefore picking them is forbidden. (Some foragers do still pick them, but use their expertise to know how to forage the leaves within reason and without damaging the future growth of the plant).

This year, we have been fortunate to have had a decent rainfall so the leaves are already in large quantity and the flower is starting to bloom. It has a reddish brown stalk supporting a flower with petals that are a strong pink at the bottom and then they change to different hues of white to pink and every shade in between.

This flower needs to be very clever in order to survive the strong winter rains. In theory windy stormy days would easily wash away the delicate pollen in the center of the flower. In order to outwit the rain, our little cyclamen flower therefore grows upside-down. If you look into the middle of the petals, you will be surprised to notice that there is no pollen there. In order to see the pollen you have to delicately turn the flower upside down or lie on the floor and look underneath the flower. One of my greatest fascinations in nature is how each plant adapts to survive, spread its seed further, or beat the competition. Plants survival mechanisms have also helped further the whole scientific field of biomimicry – using tried and tested nature to find sustainable solutions to human problems.

There are many fables about King Solomon and plants. He was known to be a great nature lover, as described in the book of Kings “He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls” (Kings 1, 4:33).

In the past, the cyclamen was called “nezer Shlomo,” Solomon’s tiara. Here’s why: It was decided that King Solomon needed a new crown and because he loved the wildflowers so much he went for a walk to choose a flower that would inspire him. He walked among so many beautiful flowers in a wide array of bright colors and they all lifted their heads up high so he would see them better and choose one of them. None of them quite touched him and he carried on wandering getting quite despondent. Finally, he spotted one hidden among the rocks in a delicate shade of pink, hanging its head. He whispered to it, “You are a beautiful flower, so gentle and modest, I will be happy to design my crown to look like you so that whenever I wear it I will remember to be gentle and modest like you.”

This story will ring true with teachers who tend to choose the child who isn’t shouting out the answer or putting up a hand into the teacher’s face, instead choosing the one waiting quietly and patiently. I find that modesty and humility are an underrated characteristic these days in a world where we are all trying to stand out. When Nechama Rivlin z”l passed away last year I was struck by how many journalists referred to her as “modest and humble.” It was high up in importance for King Solomon and should be just as important in our modern society.

The cyclamen season will last for a while now, sometimes starting as early as October and lasting until May. It is a very common flower found in every part of the country and in shady forests there will be carpets of them in the following months. As mentioned in the story they often grow under the shadow of rocks and even out of rocks as their bulbs wedge in the cracks. For many years, I had a cyclamen growing out of a crack in the drainpipe in my garden, but it hasn’t made an appearance this year and I fear it has been washed out by heavy rains, hopefully to go to the cyclamen farm in the sky.

About the Author
Nature is my passion and I am fortunate to have turned it into my career. I am a freelance nature guide at Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Reserve and Park Ariel Sharon. I believe that everything we need to know we can learn through nature, we just need to take the time to experience it with every sense in our body (and there are way more than 5 senses). I was born in London and made Aliyah in 1991. I have never for one second wanted to live anywhere else. I live in Modiin with my husband, dog and various changing combinations of my three children.
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