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Plant story - the surprising collection of Iris nigricans

Find out how the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership collection team in Jordon found Iris nigricans while taking a coffee break.

Iris nigricans near Wadi Mujib in summer 2006 (Photo: K Abulaila)

Early in 2006, just after we got a coffee break in a restaurant on top of the hill that comes after crossing through Wadi Mujib, we noticed many buses of tourists stopping along the road. The tourists were getting down with their cameras hanging on their necks and ready to take shots. We (the MSBP collection team in Jordan) wondered what was going on. Curiously, we went closer to the site with no intention to collect or even to think about an issue related to plants, when at that moment we saw an astonishing amount of giant black flowers, with light greenish, falcate leaves, sitting calmly on a reddish soil.

We have always heard about the black iris, the so called "National Flower of Jordan", although we have never seen it. It seems that even tour guides know the place where these plants grow naturally, so they bring tourists to take very nice pictures. Now, we were very lucky, as we have got a new species to collect. However, we needed to make sure that this was indeed the Iris nigricans, as there are so many Iris species with black-ish flowers in many areas of the country. We got a herbarium specimen, and marked each individual plant in the site with a flag. Upon verification in the herbarium using more than one floral key, I became quite sure that it was Iris nigricans, the famous National Flower of Jordan, and at the same time an Endemic (Flora Palaestina/Zohary) and Endangered species as well.

As a protective measure, against goats grazing all around the site, we took some spiny thistles from nearby and covered many groups of Iris plants. In early summer we then managed to collect many seeds. They are now safely conserved in the NCARE seed bank and Kew's Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst.

Story by Khaled Abulaila NCARE, Baqa’a, Jordan | More plant stories

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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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