Artemisia jordanica and Pycnocycla saxatilis

Published: June 20th, 2010 | Updated: 17/01/15

[Artemisia jordanica]

Continuing the preparation of routes for the “Camel Riders” we searched for a path between Wadi Ram and Mudawra (a village on the Jordanian – Saudi Arabian border). We drove along an unpaved road in June 1997, east of Wadi Ram and when approaching a plain named after Jebel ‘Amir and ‘Amira we came upon an astonishing landscape. The plain was marked by hundreds of shallow tracks on a soft chalk substratum (Figs. 12.3.1, 12.3.2). After checkups and a brain-storm of the four participants we concluded that these parallel tracks are caused by caravans of loaded camels that had passed through this plain. Camels follow in the footsteps of the camel before them (Fig. 12.3.3) and compact the ground. After a caravan has passed along a line over soft rock, the tracks remain for a long time (Fig. 12.3.2). While Seffi and Avner went to check some ruins in the vicinity, I walked and found a partly living shrub in that gravel plain. The leaves were linear, hairy and not dissected. There were no additional assisting characters. I was sure I had not seen it previously. Search of additional specimens in another wadi did not reveal any new clues, apart from one or two remnants of small flowering heads of the [ Compositae].

Four months later Seffi and I drove from Ma’an towards Mudawra. When approaching the Jebel ‘Amir and ‘Amira area we drove slowly and detected a site by the roadside with sandy soil. Our plant was growing there and blooming (Fig. 12.3.4). We did not wait to search for additional populations; we photographed the blooming plant and collected many specimens from the plant selected to be “the type.” The first branch became the holotype – to be deposited in the proper herbarium, and additional branches were to be sent to other herbaria as isotypes (Fig. 12.3.4). Upon returning to Jerusalem I studied the plant carefully and found that it is rather closely related to [Artemisia monosperma]. The latter is recorded in the literature from Jordan. I compared several prominent properties and found that the leaf of the new Jordanian taxon is whole, linear and hairy whereas the leaf of [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] is dissected (Fig. 12.3.5, 12.3.6, 12.3.7) and commonly glabrous. I started to plan how to describe the plant as new to science. It was evident that if the plant resembles [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] I must first see the type of the latter. The name of the author of this species is Delile: Napoleon’s botanist. Delile’s huge book is present in the herbarium of the Hebrew University. My Jordanian plant looked different.

In 1973 I stayed for half a year in Montpellier, S France at the Institute Botanique which was Delile’s domain. I learnt that the actual plants collected by Delile were deposited there in Delile’s Herbarium. Comparing several plants from that herbarium to those illustrated in the book I learnt that the artist was instructed to “copy” the plant into that book. There were many cases in which the similarity between the herbarium specimen and the book illustration was at least 95%. Before planning a visit to Montpellier, I asked my colleague, the keeper of that herbarium, to check for me the specimens of [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] in Delile’s herbarium. The reply was rather disappointing. I was told that there are several branches of [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] there, but none resemble the illustration. I was ready to write in the manuscript that I had not seen the type and I was not happy about this. A short time before this, on another excursion with the “Camel Riders” to Wadi Ram, I found a plant from the [ Umbelliferae] which I could not determine beyond the genus level ([Pycnocycla]).

I started to plan a visit to the herbarium in Edinburgh, to my friends Ian Hedge and Jennifer Lamond, who wrote the volume on this family for Flora Iranica. Ian advised me to ask the keepers of the two important botanical institutes – Kew Gardens and the Natural History Museum, to send to Edinburgh all the [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] specimens they have. On the first day of my arrival Ian told me he had found out that there are several plants in the Edinburgh herbarium with a label written in French. When checking the [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] specimen with the French label I had a surprise: the dried plant found in Edinburgh is identical to the [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] drawn in Delile’s book. There were an additional 15 herbarium sheets of other species possibly originating in Montpellier, but let us now focus on [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma]. I assume that between 1813 (the publication date of Delile’s book) and my visit there in 1998, plants had been sent from Montpellier herbarium and had not been returned. These plants had remained in Edinburgh for 185 years, until my visit.

I made typification to the type of [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] and in fact I was the only person who had ever seen the type, because of historical and postal complications. The specimens collected in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and sent from Kew and the British Museum to Edinburgh, helped me to state that what was named [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] before my study in the two countries, is in fact [“Artemisia jordanica Danin” Artemisia jordanica]. Before submitting the manuscript for publication I arrived in Boston for another purpose. I asked my colleague there, Dr. Anthony Brach, to bring me all the [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] specimens they have in their herbarium. There was one specimen collected in Iraq. I was extremely happy to put my label [“Artemisia jordanica” Artemisia jordanica] on that specimen. Dr. Michal Boaz-Yuval drew the plant and the article was published in 1999 (Fig. 12.3.6).

Fig. 12.3.1: A gravel plain with tracks caused by foot-prints of loaded camels walking in caravans one behind the other, compacting the soft substratum.

Fig. 12.3.2: A gravel plain marked by tracks of camel caravans.

Fig. 12.3.3: Camels walk on hills near ‘Arad one after the other, forming a conspicuous path.

Fig. 12.3.4: Artemisia jordanica in a site near Jebel ‘Amir and ‘Amira, where the holotype was collected.

Fig. 12.3.5: Close-up of a blooming stem of Artemisia jordanica.

Fig. 12.3.6: A drawing of Artemisia jordanica as presented in the scientific paper describing it. Drawn by Dr. Michal Boaz-Yuval.

A few years later I met Prof. Daoud Al Eisawi, who studies and writes about the flora of Jordan. I asked him why he ignores the fact that the plant growing in the Jordanian desert is [“Artemisia jordanica” A. jordanica] and not [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma]. He answered that he knows A. monosperma and the plant I found is not new to science. He thinks that I described the plant under this name from flattery towards the Jordanians. Since it is evident that he had not seen the holotype of [“Artemisia monosperma” A. monosperma] his criticism was worth very little. The distribution of the two [Artemisia] species is displayed in Fig. 12.3.8. In February 2008 I visited the Edom highlands and convinced my drivers to make a “small detour” towards Mudawra in the short time we had for that excursion. We arrived at the depression near the road where the type of [“Artemisia jordanica” A. jordanica] was collected in bloom in 1998. There was not even one green leaf there. This area may face dozens of years without a drop of rain. I learnt from [Anastatica hierochuntica] plants that their brown bark was removed by the airborne sand grains. Its red lignified stems were exposed and there was no evidence of fruit which was opened by rain drops.

Fig. 12.3.7: Four rows of simple stem leaves obtained from four plants of Artemisia jordanica and six rows of dissected stem leaves derived from six specimens from various parts of Israel.

Fig. 12.3.8: Distribution map of Artemisia jordanica (* = holotype; square = from herbarium specimens) and of Artemisia monosperma as published in the scientific article. Map drawn by Tamar Soffer.

[Pycnocycla saxatilis]

At the end of one of the excursions with tourist guides from the three nations meeting in the Holy Land, ‘Inbar, Toushae and I stayed at the tent camp of Wadi Ram. It was hard to fall asleep in the small tent because of the sound of mosquito wings – they smelled my presence but thankfully could not enter through the tent’s barrier. A clear morning found us driving in a few paths of the Wadi Ram area; a kind of imaginary country that looks like a gigantic palace. It is carved into natural statues of red to white sandstone. From time to time we stopped to climb accessible hills of red sandstone. On one of them I was happy to find [Satureja nabateorum] which I had described a short while before. The site was relatively isolated and the trunks of the old [Satureja] shrubs looked to me like an artist’s masterpiece (Fig. 12.3.9). On another hill I found a shrub which initially looked like Deverra tortuosa but was of a different species. When checking up on the flowers I saw that it belonged to the [ Umbelliferae] and resembled [Deverra tortuosa] only in its growth form. Both have green stems and small leaves which fall off a short time after sprouting. I determined it as belonging to the genus level – [Pycnocycla], which did not agree with any species described in literature. I sent a dried specimen to my friends Ian Hedge and Jennifer Lamond in Edinburgh. They invited me to visit Scotland and I came with the two tasks in my suitcase: [Artemisia] and [Pycnocycla]. Finding out that the latter was new to science we gave it a name suited to its rocky habitat (Figs. 12.3.12, 12.3.13) and after publication [“Pycnocycla saxatilis Danin, Hedge & Lamond” Pycnocycla saxatilis] started to exist. Dr. Michal Boaz-Yuval drew the plant, with emphasis on the important morphological characters (Fig. 12.3.14), and Tamar Soffer drew the distribution map. We used specimens collected in Saudi Arabia in addition to our collection (Fig. 12.3.15). Other species of this genus occur in Sinai and Iran, and we had several undetermined herbarium sheets. We decided that we had contributed enough and left some work for somebody else in the future, in the hope that the flora of the East Mediterranean area will continue to be studied.

Fig. 12.3.9: A twisted trunk of Satureja nabateorum growing in a fissure of hard sandstone rock.

Fig. 12.3.10: Pycnocycla saxatilis in Wadi Ram, SW Jordan.

Fig. 12.3.11: A close-up view of a flowering umbel from Wadi Ram (photo – Ouria Oren).

Fig. 12.3.12: The rocky landscape in Wadi Ram area where Pycnocycla saxatilis was discovered.

Fig. 12.3.13: Pycnocycla saxatilis growing in a rock crevice in sandstone at Wadi Ram area.

Fig. 12.3.14: A drawing of Pycnocycla saxatilis as printed in the scientific article. Drawn by Dr. Michal Boaz-Yuval.

Fig. 12.3.15: Distribution map of Pycnocycla saxatilis (top triangle – site of holotype; other triangles from herbaria). Drawn by Tamar Soffer.


  • Danin, A. 1968. On the ecology of Satureia thymbrifolia in the Judean Desert. Israel J. Bot. 17: 216.
  • Danin, A. 1997a. Contributions to the flora of Jordan: new and interesting plants from Dana Nature Reserve, SW Jordan. Willdenowia 27: 161-175.
  • Danin, A. and Hedge, I.C. 1998. Contributions to the flora of Jordan 2. A new species of Satureja (Labiatae) and some new records. Willdenowia 28: 135-142.
  • Danin, A. 1999c. Contributions to the Flora of Jordan 3. A new species of Artemisia (Compositae, Anthemideae) from S Jordan. Willdenowia 29: 147-153.
  • Danin, A., Hedge, I.C. and Lamond, J.M. 2000. Contributions to the flora of Jordan IV: a new species of Pycnocycla. Willdenowia 30: 77-81.