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Plant story - Iris sofarana, an endemic plant species from the higher mountains in Lebanon

The showy flowers of Iris sofarana make it vulnerable to unlicensed collecting, for personal and commercial use.

Iris sofarana ssp. kesrwana (Photo: S. Khairallah)

Iris sofarana - a species under threat

Like other Iris species found in Lebanon (such as the truly montane Iris cedreti), Iris sofarana is threatened because its showy flowers make it popular with unlicensed and uncontrolled amateur collectors. Picking Iris will generally happen by removing the flowers (thus preventing seed setting and development), or taking the whole rhizome away for planting elsewhere, such as in the gardens of local people or when they are taken by and/or for professional plant traders.

The additional threats facing Iris sofarana in Lebanon are:

  1. grazing
  2. agricultural development
  3. housing developments, in particular those for winter tourism such as skiing resorts

It can also be said, as a general characteristic of Iris species, that they do not easily set seed, making the survival of populations into the next year more difficult than for many other plant species.

The threat for Iris cedreti may be less urgent, but this species is also found high in the mountains at one of Lebanon’s best known skiing areas, where a similar development of chalets and hotels is taking place.

Making a difference on the ground

Seeds from both Iris species have been collected in the frame of a long-term collaboration between the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (MSB). These collections are now conserved under storage conditions that should guarantee their long-term survival, leaving the possibility for future re-introduction when needed.

Iris sofarana was collected in small amounts by Simon Khairallah from LARI and Dr Michiel van Slageren from the MSB in July 2001 and July 2003, while Iris cedreti was more recently collected in July 2004. Their identity was confirmed by Iridaceae-expert Dr Thomas Fietz from Germany who joined field trips during the flowering stages with Simon Khairallah in 2002 and 2003.

Story by Simon Khairallah, LARI, Tel Amara, Lebanon | More plant stories

Get involved - Adopt a Seed, Save a Species

We have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020.

Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.

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