Baretz is a licensed tour guide who lives with her
family in Jerusalem.
Nayot is a quiet, unremarkable residential
neighborhood not far from downtown Jerusalem; to most
passers-by, a small strip-mall appears to be its most
salient feature. However, many people are unaware
that the entrance to one of Jerusalem’s magical
contemporary treasures - the University Botanical
Gardens - lies unassumingly between the supermarket and
the gas station on Yehuda Burla Street.
The Gardens were established in 1953 as part
of the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.
The climate in Jerusalem - with its hot, dry summers and
cold, rainy winters - allows for the cultivation of
plants from a wide variety of habitats. In fact,
in addition to displaying plants from around the world,
the Botanical Gardens also serve as a testing ground for
many of the plants introduced into horticulture and
forestry in Israel.
Strolling through the Gardens, it is easy to
forget the presence of the city; the urban landscape is
largely obscured by the undulating hills of Jerusalem’s
topography and the rising foliage of trees and plants
from all corners of the earth. The Gardens’
thirty-two developed acres house over six thousand
species of plants, arranged according to regions: South
Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, South-west and
Central Asia and the Mediterranean Basin. (In the
future, the Gardens will extend to an additional
fourteen acres to include Japanese and Chinese gardens
and a South American section.) Don’t be
intimidated by the quantities, the varieties and the
Latin names in the Botanical Gardens. If an
information-oriented tour is your preference,
audio-guides are available.
Each week at the Gardens is a new experience,
as the seasons’ progression is expressed and reflected
by a myriad of leaves, flowers, seeds, bark and
pods. Winding paths and a generous smattering of
benches allow both panoramic vistas of the ever-changing
palette and quiet hideaways to contemplate, illustrate
or meditate. Indeed, the gardens playfully court
spiritual dimensions, gently teasing thoughts of nature
and the universe. The Shinmin stone, set
under an English Oak tree (Quercus robur) west of
the Visitors’ Center on a hillock leading to South
Africa, is a fine place to search for inspiration.
Read its short, Japanese inscription, take some time to
ponder its meaning and allow its echoes to accompany you
on your exploration of the Gardens.
Another sub-theme woven throughout the
gardens is water: a lake, a waterfall and two small
ponds embody the life-blood that sustains all living
things visible in the Gardens – plants, animals and
human beings. The Haimaki and Rachel Cohen Lake
appears as you leave the parking lot behind you and
first step into the Gardens. Nestled in a small
dale, the lake is a seeming apparition that powerfully
effects the transition from gritty cityscape to primeval
Jerusalem. Take advantage of the restaurant
overlooking the lake; its patio is an ideal spot to
enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal while observing the
black swans, the turtle family and the Nymphaea alba,
in a stunning array of colors during the summer
months. Chances are good that you will spy at
least a few of the forty-six species of birds that visit
in the Gardens throughout the year.
A short walk up the Magnolia Avenue brings
you to the David Tchorz Waterfall. If you continue
along the path toward the northern boundary of the
Gardens you will also find the Ruth and Max
Guggenheim-Braunschwieg Pool and finally, the Sunlight
Pool, tucked away in the tail of the Mediterranean
Basin. Each is a quiet surprise of cascading
waters, statuesque reeds or giant goldfish flitting
between lotus flowers, and each beckons you to linger
alongside it a bit longer.
Throughout your wanderings in the Gardens you
will encounter Chapungu, a series of over fifty
sculptures situated in Europe, North America and
Australia. Chapungu is the South
African Bataleur eagle, an ancient symbol of Zimbabwe.
The Shona, an indigenous tribe,believe
Chapungu to be a messenger from God and a
The statues are the fruit of an ongoing
Zimbabwean project, founded during the country’s war of
independence in the 1970s, which encourages artists from
the Shona to express their culture, beliefs and
traditions in stone. The sculptures were
created by dozens of native artists and are deeply
influenced by ancient African artistic traditions
originating in Zimbabwe. They describe people, animals,
ghosts and spirits and scenes from African mythology and
everyday life. Additional sculptures were designed
under the influence of modern art and express the
changes that have taken place in Zimbabwean society
during the last forty years.
The sculptures are grouped in the Gardens
according to four themes: Spirit, Legend, Nature and
Man. The exhibition in Jerusalem is temporary, but
owing to the current political instability in Zimbabwe a
closing date has not yet been set.
Chapungu will be part of the Gardens’ landscape
at least until the end of 2002.
Save some energy for the short, uphill climb
to the Florence Dworsky Tropical Conservatory. Built in
1985 at the behest of an orchid enthusiast, the
conservatory houses an impressive collection of plants
native to the tropical rain forests on both sides of the
equator. The unique climatic conditions which
allow these plants to flourish in the rain forest have
been recreated here: the absence of seasons, twelve
daylight hours all year round, high temperatures between
65-85 degrees and constant rainfall.
The rain forests are home to ninety percent
of the world’s plants and animals; in addition,
vegetable oils, paints, spices, fibers, wax, rubber and
about twenty-five percent of the drugs prescribed by
doctors originate in these tropical habitats. The
Conservatory is designed to present a microcosm of the
rain forest. Inside you will find plants from each
of the three stories in the forest: the tree canopy, the
middle level and the forest floor.
For a taste of the dizzying heights to which
the trees aspire, crane your neck to find the uppermost
reaches of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera),
already pruned down, tickling the inside of the
Conservatory’s dome. Take a close look at the
giant bamboo shoots against the wall (Bambusa
vulgaris variegata). Originating in southeast
Asia, this plant is the fastest growing in all the plant
kingdom – it can grow as much as eight inches a
day! (Its growth progress has been noted on one
specimen in black marker.)
Dinosaurs would have walked amongst the
Cycases (Cycas circinalis) - low,
palm-like trees often referred to as living
fossils. During the Jurassic era these plants,
together with ferns, covered much of the earth’s surface
and many fossilized specimens have been found.
Take a good look at the plant’s features and see if you
can discern between the male and female trees.
If you’re up for a challenge, try and locate
the following plants, all of which originate in the
tropical rain forest and whose products can be found in
most household kitchens: coffee (hint: the fruit is
red); vanilla (a climber); rice; and bananas (looks like
a tree but isn’t really). See if you can identify
Nepenthes alata, a carnivorous plant which traps
small animals in its pitcher-shaped leaves and digests
them in order to compensate for the lack of nitrogen in
the forest floor.
And lastly, don’t miss the orchids. The
orchid family is one of the largest in the plant kingdom
and the most physiologically sophisticated, although the
thousands of species from the Sahara desert to
Antarctica all share the same basic
characteristics. Inspecting the details of
these sensuous flowers in their natural habitat, it is
easy to understand how the pursuit of these plants has
driven people to theft and murder. Each
individual flower is a composition of form and color
unmatched by any human creation. The variations
are unlimited, as they are bred all around the world for
a huge spectrum of characteristics.
In the tropical rain forest orchids are
epiphytes – they do not grow from the ground, but rather
on other trees; they absorb water and minerals from the
air via their roots and leaves. In the
Conservatory you will find orchids integrated throughout
the entire display of plants.
The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are located
off Yehuda Burla Street.
Directions: From Highway
#1: At entrance to city continue straight, passing
Binyanei Hauma on the right. Continue straight
through several traffic lights for about a mile.
After passing the Monastery of the Cross on the right,
turn right at the next traffic light onto Herzog
Avenue. At next light turn right onto Yehuda Burla
Street. Go straight through one more light and
turn left into the Botanic Gardens parking lot, just
before the Supersol supermarket. Buses 17, 19, 31, and
Email: The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
Web site: The Jerusalem
Visiting Hours: The Gardens are open
daily from 8:00 AM to sunset. Tropical
Conservatory opening hours: Sunday 2:00 PM -4:00 PM,
Monday-Thursday, Saturday, 10:00 AM -4:00 PM, Friday
10:00 AM – 2:00 PM.
Entry fees apply.