The Rare One

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In the early morning, it tips its head back with valor. The Iris Sofrana peels back her feeble generous petals with drops and folds of lilac streaked canvas. Her elegant anatomy, stripped from the neck down, stands gracefully. Reaching skywards, ribbed with natural frill, raw with the colors of flower flesh white tiger stripes and purple veins, it curls towards the ground like tears and lifts up like laughter. Her petals cover her heart, the center of its being as if to contain some sacred secret that is gently holding at her bosom.

So perfectly held there in the air with poised and dancing stillness, its perfect allure of a delicate goddess, rooted in the ground but living also on the whims of nature, gives it its allure of a lonesome exceptional floret.

The beautiful Iris sofarana, a stunning flower found only on Mount Lebanon, is threatened by its popularity among collectors, as well as by habitat loss due to quarrying and other unsustainable practices.

it was first described by Sir Michael Foster in 1889, an English physiologist with specimens collected around the village of Sofar. Two forms within this species were described: the forma Kasruwana and forma Westii and differ mainly in sizes. Beside being an endemic, Iris Sofarana is a rare species known from only seven localities in Lebanon such as Ehmej, Ehden, Faraya, Dahr el baidar and Sofar.

Iris Sofarana is an endemic species of Mount Lebanon, which means it only naturally occurs in Mount Lebanon. It grows only on a low herbaceous vegetarian and rocky slopes in mountainous regions between 1300 and 1700 meters of altitude. 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.

On May 24, 2015, the rocky slopes and forest of El Dichar, near the Lebanese mountain village of Ehmej, was inaugurated as a natural site, with more than 62 hectares of public lands designated as a protected area and sanctuary for nature.

The site of El Dichar was initially intended to be a Plant Micro-Reserve (PMR) as it aims firstly at protecting a rare endemic species. The natural site is divided into two parts due to the tangle of private and public lands that do not form a continuous area.

By protecting the natural habitats of this iris, the habitats of other animal and plant species associated to it are also being conserved. It is by no means a coincidence that the very rare and endangered endemic Iris sofarana has taken up residence in the calm valley of El Dichar in Ehmej.

Located in the Jbeil district in Lebanon, Ehmej is a mountain village connected to Nature that places great importance on the conservation of its natural patrimony. It was granted with an amazing biodiversity and until now, many forests, valleys and slopes remain well preserved.

The rocky slopes under the summit of El Wata, at an altitude ranging between 1650 to 1800 meters and partly covered by a small forest of iron oak (Quercus cerris), constitute the natural habitats of El-Dichar with a high diversity of plant species. More than twenty species of tree can be found, mostly deciduous, with species of oak, maples, and whitebeams, but also some evergreen tree species of junipers.

The species of Iris sofarana is part of the tribe of the Oncocyclus, a group of irises exclusive to the mountainous or arid regions of the Middle East, in an area extending eastward from Turkey to Iran, and southward from the Caucasus to Jordan. The life span of these irises is very short and lasts for a mere four to five days, contrary to other plant species that have a long flowering period and that are pollinated by many types of insects.

Four other Oncocyclus species are present in Lebanon: Iris antilibanotica, I.bismarckianaI.cedretii, I.lortetii. All these species, including Iris sofarana, are endangered in the wild, which means they have a high risk of extinction in the near future according to the conservation status of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Many threats compromise the durability of the species. Housing and roads construction are the most important threats as they destroy natural habitats, fragment them into isolated patches and prevent the movement of pollinators.

With the creation of this protected area close to hiking trails and to the guesthouse of Arz Ehmej, the village gets more attractive to visitors in search of nature. The ecotourism benefits directly to locals and many of them have already banked on the sustainable development of their village. Twelve hiking trails were recently developed in Ehmej and connected to the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT). They allow the visitors to explore Ehmej but also to discover other incredible spots in the surroundings of Ehmej, for example the natural site of Jaj Cedars, the Three Bridges Chasm of Balaa, Tannourine Cedars Forest Reserve or the Valley of Adonis.

When the wind blows, though nobody knows, the lonely flower stands strong even if it’s not for long. This rare lonely flower native of our land stands alone, in a world unknown, proud and resilient yet still asking for mercy. It carries within its petal the story of Lebanon, beautiful, delicate, god sent with the gift of nature, resilient, yet so prone to utter loss if not tended to and protected.

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