Most major cities around the world have a botanical garden, so what makes Jerusalem’s special?
For one, its Bible Path. This is the only botanical garden in the world where you can walk along a winding trail lined with trees and plants mentioned in the Good Book. Signs inscribed with biblical passages that mention the tamarisk, almond, pistachio, fig and others at once provide a quick biblical refresher, and insight into local vegetation through the ages.
The Jerusalem Botanical Garden is a rare island of tranquility in Israel’s capital. More than 6,000 species of flowers, trees and other vegetation from southern Africa, Europe, North America, southwest Asia and the Mediterranean grow wild in a valley sandwiched between the neighborhoods of Nayot, San Simon and Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus. Paved trails are easily accessible to amblers from sun-up to dusk all week long, while a network of more rustic, gravel paths ratchet up the degree of difficulty for those up to the challenge.
Secluded vantage points dot the garden, and at least 46 kinds of birds including cormorants and Syrian woodpeckers make it a favored spot for birdwatchers. (Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to spot them.) Between the Alpine and Mediterranean climatic zones, and across a gurgling–albeit manmade–brook stands the tropical conservatory distinguished by its yellow dome. Currently undergoing renovation, it houses an astonishing array of vegetation from coffee to insect-noshing peanut plants. A Second Temple-era well and remnants of a columbarium, or pigeon house, were also unearthed at the base of the conservatory.
Another favorite for park visitors is a bonsai grove tended by local enthusiasts, as is the artificial lake with a restaurant on its shores. A train making short circuits around the garden keeps children happy and provides a welcome rest for walk weary feet.
Botanists at the garden conduct research into the adaptation of plant species across climatic zones and their commercial applications like the use of Stevia rebaudiana (sweetleaf) as a source for low-calorie sweetener.
The Jerusalem Botanical Garden regularly hosts photography, sculpture, flower arranging, painting and embroidery exhibitions, the most remarkable being the annual orchid exhibition every Passover, when different varieties of the flower stretch for as far as the eye can see. A walking group for those 55 and up meets at 7AM Sunday through Friday, while guided tours in English are offered Tuesdays at 4PM.
The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
Hebrew University, Givat Ram Campus
Telephone: +972-2-6794012/13, +972-2-6797454/63