Photo Essay: Spring in a nutshell

The blooming of the almond trees is a sure sign it’s Tu Bishvat.

The Shkedia in bloom (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
The Shkedia in bloom
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
In Israel, the winter is short. Plants in Israel seem to have known this for millennia and start celebrating the spring even before the middle of February. Of course there is no proper celebration without the “queen” present in her best dress. This role is played by the almond tree (shaked – Prunus dulcis) well known in Hebrew as shkedia. While most of the surrounding trees are torpid for the winter, the almond tree is ready to mark the New Year for Trees. The almond tree remains bare from the autumn through most of the winter.
This month, the almond tree is covered in thousands of pinkish white flowers all over its branches, before its new leaves sprout. The sight of wonderful white blossoms that have become the symbol of Tu Bishvat signal that spring is coming.
The almond tree, which originated in western Asia, was cultivated by man thousands of years ago. It is mentioned in the Bible at the time of Joseph and his brothers around 3,700 years ago.
These trees are found all over the northern half of Israel and in some parts of the Negev. The beautiful flowers of the almond tree give off a pleasant scent and produce nectar that attracts bees and other insects for pollination. In March, the almond tree loses its flowers. The fertilized flowers are replaced by almonds, which will be ripe only six months later. This fruit contains small amounts of cyanide, which makes it dangerous to eat large amounts of bitter almonds from wild almond trees. Nevertheless, cultivated almond trees are appropriately treated, resulting in much less harmful agents and large quantities of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Almond orchards are especially plentiful in the Judean lowland and the Galilee. The wild almond tree is protected in Israel, so observe and enjoy its beautiful blossoms and prepare yourselves for spring, which is just around the corner.