Friday, April 4, 1997
PLANTS OF LEBANON: SOFAR IRIS
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Irises are perennial herbaceous plants with rhizomes (underground storage
organs) and long, flat leaves that grow directly out of the ground. In the
Spring, they produce large, elaborate flowers that cover most of the color
spectrum, depending on species and variety.
The Sofar Iris was discovered by Hartmann in the late 1800s in the town of Sofar in the mountains east of Beirut. It produces flowers with dense purple spots and lines on a bluish-white background. It is displayed on the cover of Mustapha Nehmeh's book, Wild Flowers of Lebanon, published in 1978 by the National Council of Scientific Research, from which some of this information was obtained.
This plant is endemic to Lebanon; it grows nowhere else. Unfortunately, its survival is threatened by flower picking (according to Nehmeh) and, most probably, by the unregulated construction craze sweeping Lebanon.
In 1982, some transplanted specimens of the Iris were growing on the American University of Beirut's experimental farm in the Bequa'a. I hope they survived the years of war so that, if the natural population were to go extinct, it would still be possible to revive the species from those plants.
Lebanon is endowed with a rich variety of plant life that is being inventoried as part of plans to protect the environment. Let's hope the necessary steps will be taken to protect this Iris and other rare plants like it.