Mount Carmel is a very well-known location for Nature lovers as it offers several beautiful treks in the midst of Mother Nature. We did a trek down Nahal Shimri (נחל שמרי) from the top of Mount Carmel until an area with "bell caves". It is a trek on the Western side of the Carmel as the Ofer stream flows down to the direction of the Mediterranean Sea. The trek gives a visual sample of the geological formation of the Carmel and of its specific Mediterranean woodlands (maquis) climate belt, especially in the Springtime season (February-March) when many plants are blossoming. This trek is part of the Israel National Trail (שביל ישראל) which in itself proves its worth. It belongs to the wider area called "Forest Hof Hacarmel" (יער חוף הכרמל) which is managed by KKL (JNF - Jewish National Fund).
In this blog, I am only focusing on the Nature we saw during our trek this week in March. More general details are available from web sites in Hebrew such as iNature and Tiuli
From the road, we start with a grove of ancient olive trees (see photo below) which were cultivated in terraces on the upper side of the trek, meaning above the water springs: this is typical of the culture from terraces to retain rainwater for longer period because of the scarcity of water springs (which are located further down the mounts, in general). From antique times, the people of the region lived from the production of olive oil which was sold to large markets such as Egypt and Rome.
After passing this section, the trek takes us towards the riverbed of Nahal Shimri across a section very dense of vegetation and plants. I could notice the following wild flowers. The first one which is very noticeable and seen in many parts of the trail is the Asphodel (עירית גדולה).
The Asphodel is a geophyte plant which means that it keeps an organ under the ground (such as bulb) until the new season starts. Then the plant develops in early Spring, before too many other plants would grow, thus allowing itself reproduction by pollination from insects without too much competition. This is also the reason why it grows leafless because it takes its early energy not from photosynthesis but from its underground storage. There are many old legends related to this plant. And there is also more modern legend in Harry Potter books where the plant is used to make a sleeping potion !
The other wild flower we meet is the Blue-Scarlet Pimpernel (מרגנית השדה) which is quite common across the world (see photo below). The name was given to a fictional English hero who tried to rescue French aristocrats during the French Revolution and used to enigmatically sign his letters with the drawing of this flower. The flower only shows in sunny days and therefore was used by shepherds to anticipate weather forecast. In ancient times the plant was used in folk medicine, although it also proves today to cause health problems.
A very spread bush found in the Mediterranean maquis is the Prickly Burnet or Thorny Burnet (סירה קוצנית). This plant is mentioned in the Bible and in the Talmud (tract Sanhedrin) with its name סירה which means "pot": it is due to the shape of its flower which grows in Spring time as a little "pot". In English the name "burnet" refers to the "burning" (reddish) colour of the flower (which can be seen on the photo below). The plant is endemic to the South-East Mediterranean and the Middle-East regions.
Further down the riverbed, we come across the Common Oak (אלון מצוי) in the start of its blossom (see photo below).
More interestingly we also see the Terebinth otherwise known as Pistacia Palaestina (אלה ארץ-ישראלית). This tree is endemic to the Land of Israel and this explains its specific name "Palaestina". It is mentioned several times in the Bible as the Terebinth (האלה pronounced Elah). It also gave its name to a famous valley in Israel, the Valley of Elah, where David defeated Goliath the giant Philistine: in this valley were many of these trees but most of them disappeared after the First World War where the Turks cut off many trees in the Land of Israel to supply wood for their furnaces. In Springtime, its blossom creates a lot of incandescence in the landscape and is often responsible for adding the red colour to it ! (see photo below)
The trek continues into the riverbed and takes the visitors to pass some rocks down the stream. Along the rocks, we can still see some cyclamens in blossom (see photo below): in a few weeks they would disappear as they flourish in the winter season.
After crossing a few rocky obstacles as this, the trail reaches a sort of clearing surrounded by some cliffs in both sides. On the left side we can see some caves high up, but continuing a bit further in the trail we reach a large cave. The visitors can actually miss it as it is often hidden behind dense vegetation and is not easily visible from the trail itself (see photo of entrance below).
The cave is a "bell cave" (מערת הפעמון) due to its shape with an opening from the top and the rest of the cave becoming broader and broader from the top to the lower part. In documentation it is wrongly described as a "Karst" type of cave: it is not the case because Karst is only possible in limestone rock (גיר). But here we have a chalk rock (קירטון). This bell cave has formed naturally: the upper opening was created by cracks on the thin layer of hard Nari rock (נארי), then the lower thicker layer made of chalk was eroded by rainwater and weathering over a long period of time.
The chalk rock found in the Carmel is rather ancient, formed in the Cenomanian period some 100 million years ago. The region also contains some formations of volcanic rocks (basalt, tuff) which resulted from volcanic activity some 95 million years ago.
In short, this region of the Carmel, in the Forest Hof Hacarmel, is a feast for lovers of geology and of botanic.