Today’s photographs and write-up are supplied by Jackie Chambers, a UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist. Thanks, Jackie! As an aside, Jackie is presenting on Wildflowers of Israel and Jordan in early February.
The small, white flowers of Ratema raetem (or white weeping broom) measure between 8-10mm long, and are produced in late winter and early spring. They exhibit the banner, wing and keel petal structure that is typical of the pea family. These flowers emit a sweet, honey fragrance. It was the smell of honey in the middle of the desert that first drew my attention to this plant…that and the fact that it was practically the only other living thing in the vicinity!
Retama raetam is adapted to survive extreme drought conditions. Its roots go deep into the earth, while the slender branches reduce the amount of surface area exposed to dry desert air. While it does produce very small leaves, they are quickly dropped in order to conserve water. The majority of photosynthesis is carried out by the green photosynthetic stems. For more information on plant adaptations to desert conditions please see the article Plant Adaptation in the Extreme Desert in Israel by Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir.
Retama raetam is endemic to North Africa, the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon) and Sicily in southern Italy. It was introduced to Australia as an ornamental in the 1840s and has since naturalized. It is on an Alert List for Potential Weed Species in South Western Australia (PDF).