MarHaba from Damascus

MarHaba from Damascus,

 

Today has been a difficult day.  We started at 5:30 this morning and returned at 9:00 pm very tired and hungry.  It began with a bus ride toward Palmyra where we departed at a junction where we could travel to Quarytein.  This was also the intersection for travel to Bagdad and we saw across the road a large group of trucks that started out in a convoy while we were standing along the road  discussing our options.  The road to Quarytein took us in the opposite direction and looked quite desolate with little or no traffic so we asked at the roadside stop if we could hire a driver and car for a few hours.  One was called and arrived.  Unknown to us we were entering a sensitive area.  Between us we had three different Syrian maps and had watched for road signs none of which indicated a restriction on travel in this area.  We were soon being interrogated and our destination determined for us.  Instead of looking in potential Iris habitat we were driven to a mineral hot spring area that also had some ruins.  During our time in the area we saw that the “chalky hill” habitat for the species was being removed during phosphorus extraction.  Finding populations of this plant would require considerable planning and probably would be more fruitful with travel from Homs.  The ride back to Syria was a new experience as we hitched a ride with a truck driver.  He was very kind and stayed beside the road with us on the edge of Damascus until we successfully flagged down a bus.

 

Ma’a salaama!

 

Carol

4/21/06

 

 

 

MarHaba from Damascus,

 

Today was an organizational day as we washed clothes, checked bus routes, compared notes on probable population sites and prepared to search for our the final Iris we hoped to see in Syria.  I have herbarium records from the the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden but they are old and the locations somewhat vague.  On the positive side they are consistent in that the species has been collected multiple times in the hills around Quarytein.

 

Ma’a salaama!

 

Carol

4/20/0
 
 

MarHaba from Damascus,

 

Today was another long day as we had three Iris sites to visit.  The town of Suwayda (Suweida) was our destination.  We saw vegetative plants of I. auranitica (past flowering) west of town in the foothills of El Hauran.  The site is a cinder cone with large boulders.  There were Tulipa in bloom.  We hired a taxi from Suweida who dropped us off at the base of the hill and picked us up an hour later.

 

Our next destination was about 2 km from Suweida on dry rocky banks near a stream.  We found several plants of I. bostensis with one still in flower.  According to Thomas this flower was smaller than typical.  The area is heavily grazed and weedy.

 

We then boarded a bus towards Damascus stopping at our final destination for the day, a gravel hill outside of Shahba.  Here we found many mostly small vegetative plants (past bloom) of I. swensoniana.  Thomas had visited the site several weeks earlier and found only about 6 plants flowering.  We observed no developing fruits but did not inspect each clump.  Although the population has healthy numbers and many small plants its future looks bleak because they are removing this hill for gravel.  This is the only site I am aware of for this species.  We then walked back to Shahba and caught a bus to Damascus.

 

Ma’a salaama!

 

Carol

4/19/06

 

 

 

 

MarHaba from Damascus,

 

Today we started early and traveled quickly because we had two Iris sites to visit.  First we traveled by bus to the town of Blouden to see Iris antilibanotica.  The town is at a high elevation and a destination for vacationers during summer months.  We took a taxi to the site 10 km up the mountain at the snow line where we found vegetative plants that will flower in about a month.   There were fritillaries  Tulipa and Romula in bloom and vegetative Lomatium (biscuit root) that were being harvested by locals.  Unfortunately this rich mountain habitat is rapidly being converted to apple orchards.  We hiked back down to the town passing by two men who were selling dried fruit and nuts from the back of their truck.  Clyde’s addition to nuts coupled with their prices cost us a small fortune.

 

The second site was on the cliffs above Damascus so we traveled back to Damascus and took a taxi up Mt. Quasyoun (Kassioum).  Here we climbed over a rail and scrambled down the side of the mountain.  The path was steep with shifting rocks.  Thomas was more confident than Clyde and I who were quite cautious on the decent (and ascent).  The area is fairly trashed as the picnic crowd and restaurants at the top appear to throw trash down the slope and there are many trails made by people, feral cats and foxes.  We found 6 plants, one with a developing fruit.  The plants were crowded into small spaces between the boulders.  A survey of the site would require rock-climbing gear but from our hunting the species appears very restricted and threatened.  After climbing up we sat for some time looking out over the city before catching a taxi to town, arriving at our hotel in the early evening.

 

Ma’a salaama!

 

Carol

4/18/06