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Description & Remarks
A leafless parasite, found in the Negev Highlands. Inflorescence is an erect thick spike, 10-35 cm tall. Bracts and bracteoles woolly on the surface, which is prominent on top of the spike where the bracts are longer than the flower buds. Calyx lobes loosely woolly on the outside surface and densely woolly at the margins; calyx lobes 5, unequal, 4 lateral ovate and obtuse-rounded ones plus one tooth-like, acute, very short, sometimes missing entirely. Flowers pinkish-creamy, with two yellow, black spotted folds at the flower mouth. Corolla lobes hairy on inner side.
C. fissa belong to sect. Heterocalyx in the genus Cistanche – which is an Asian group, only few species of which reach as far west as the Eastern Mediterranean. The species of this section are characterized by hairy floral and inflorescence parts, as opposed to the Sect. Cistanche species, which is the largest section in the genus and characterized by hairless inflorescences and flowers parts.
C. fissa is very rare in Israel, and recorded from few localities. A mis-identification of C. fissa specimens is probably the reason for the inclusion of C. salsa in Flora Palaestina, a species which does not occur in the region. C. salsa, also belongs to sect. Heterocalyx, differs from C. fissa by its calyx shape, densely hairy peduncle, and a glabrous inner corolla lobes. Most records of C. salsa in Israel and Jordan should refer to another species – C. violacea, which has violet-purple corolla lobes, and is completely glabrous (except anthers.)
C. fissa is an Irano-Turanian species, described from Turkmenistan, and is known from the Transcaucasus, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Jordan (collected from the eastern slopes of Mt. Gilead).
In a genetic revision of the genus from 2017, C. fissa was found to be a paraphyletic group, and a future study might split it into 2 separate species, following morphological, genetic and geographic differences.
In the Nahal Zin site, C. fissa was observed to be a parasite on Haloxylon scoparium Pomel. There is no data on the host species in the other localities in Israel, but they are most likely all small Chenopodiaceaea shrubs.
C. fissa was discovered in 2018, during a Deshe Institute field survey, by Oren Hoffmann and Dar Ben-Natan, and identified a year later by Chris Thorogood, Dar Ben-Natan and Ori Fragman-Sapir. In 2019-2020 it was found in few more sites in the Negev heights and near Yeroham by Ori Fragman-Sapir, Yedidia Smuel, Zion Siman-Tov, Nadav Silvert, Yoav Silvert, Dalia Bones and others.
D. Ben-Natan and O. fragman-Sapir, 2020
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