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French Version

Jordan’s Black Iris

After a long winter’s slumber, the earth is reborn again in spring as the temperate rays of the sun caress its surface allowing green yellowish stems to emerge from the rich soil. The Black Iris, Jordan’s floral emblem, gently drops its wintry attire and reveals its unique dark complexion in grandeur.

“In general we talk about the Black Iris but we actually have more than one type of Black Iris in Jordan. We have about five types whose color shadings can be classified as black. One of those is the original Black Iris, which has the Latin name Iris nigricans,” said ecologist Maher Qishawi, who works with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

According to Qishawi the Black Iris family stretches from the northern mountains past Umm Qais down to the south of Petra.

There, the Petra Iris petrana, grows all the way to Tafila where the Iris nigricans spreads over the mountain chain leading to Madaba, where a third type the Iris atrofusca or the Jilead Iris flourishes. A fourth type known as the Iris atropupurea starts growing from Jerash reaching to Umm Qais, leaving us with the iris edomensis, which is the fifth type that according to an article by Qishawi exists exclusively in the Southern parts of the Kingdom. Qishawi says that the Iris nigricans is Jordan’s official national flower, which was chosen in accordance to a Royal decree.

“After and even before it was chosen as Jordan’s national flower we have an ethical obligation to protect this type of flower that once was abundant, however, this year it is scarce,” explained the young ecologist, “two weeks ago I went with a colleague and visited the areas where the Black Iris is supposed to grow but to our surprise we only came across three irises, and that was from Madaba to Makawer. Qishawi stated that RSCN works to preserve all iris types in Jordan, in addition to the other endangered and rare flora. The Black Iris blossoms in between the months of March and April and according to Qishawi it all depends upon the weather and atmosphere. “If the climate is warm it blossoms in March and wilts in April; however, if the weather is rainy and consistently cold it will last until mid or end of April.

Iris petrana lasts longer than the other types—sometimes it lasts until mid April or until the beginning of May,” added Qishawi, “On average they last up to a month depending on weather elements mostly.” A fragile flower in nature, the Black Iris is threatened by various factors—the most important of which is the deterioration of its natural habitat. “Most of the areas in which it grows are being agriculturally reclaimed; the Black Iris is a survivor plant and no matter how many times the land is cultivated it manages to grow again. However, if the plough digs deep enough into the ground then this could cause its extinction,” further explained Qishawi. “Another threat to its existence is arbitrary pasturage especially by goats. But the most common factor that threatens the Black Iris is picking by picnickers in areas close to Amman, Iraq Al Ameer and Wadi Al Seer,” explained Qishawi. The Black Iris is a flower that grows in groups. If a person decides to pick it s/he will discover that it withers away quite quickly.

Qishawi said the Black Iris hasn’t been reproduced beyond its natural habitat or on a commercial level, which is the reason that leads people to seek it in its natural place. “They try to take its Rhizome—which is the horizontal underground stem that often sends develop roots—to plant it; however, most of there attempts are futile,” said Qishawi in a disappointed tone, “At the moment it is the owners of arboretums, who are doing so; as many work in landscaping, they convince clients that they can plant Black Irises in their gardens.” By doing so the landscaper would have destroyed half a dunum of natural Iris habitat to plant a garden since he needs a lot of rootstalks, Qishawi said. “Nowadays Black Iris can easily be cultivated; firstly, by taking small parts from the rootstalks and replanting them, or secondly through tissue culture to produce many plants instead of picking many,” explained Qishawi.

The RSCN, according to Qishawi, has its own samples of the Black Iris forming an important gene reservoir. He further added that environmental laws in Jordan only punishes those who cut large trees and not smaller types of flora like the Black Iris, even though in some foreign countries it’s a crime to cut any type of rare iris or sell it. “We are trying to establish a list of endangered plants and flowers and hopefully include them into an agricultural law that will protect them. We’ve first started with mammals and birds; the categorization of plants—up to 2,500 types—would take a long time before it is finished,” concluded Qishawi, who thinks that Jordanians should take pictures of flowers and hang them at home instead of simply plucking them out of their natural habitat.

Mike Derderian
The Star

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