Saving/Protecting the Sea Daffodil in Israel
The Sea Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) naturally grows along a narrow strip about 50-100 ft (15-30 m) from the sea on the Mediteranian coast. It is not only a beautiful heavenly-fragrant flower, but is has significant medicinal value as well. It is likely to be the "Rose of HaSharon" referred to in the bible (Song of Songs 2:1).
This remarkable plant has been there long before we came along... Very little consideration is being given to its delicate habitat needs let alone its protection. The Israeli shore is a major attraction to Israelis and tourists from abroad. Major hotels and beach-front high-rise homes as well as promenades are being constantly added to the coastline.
Few small preserves dot the landscape but these may not be able in the long run to prevent the disappearance of this plant that the famous Greek Herbalist and nature historian, (~50 AD) Elder Pliny, considered one of the most important medicinal plants for humanity.
Why try to save/protect the Sea Daffodil?
1. Unique and important medicinal properties:
Pancratium is attracting much interest for the pharmaceutical application of its 40+ alkaloids so far identified - most notably Lycorine, Pancratistatin and Haemanthamine. The medicinal properties attributed to the alkaloids are wide ranging including anti-tumor/cancer, anti-alzheimer's, anti-cholinesterase, anti-fungal and many others w/ new molecules of pharmaceutical value continuously discovered.
2. Abundance of exquisite fragrance chemicals:
Likely the result of the research emphasis on the alkaloid bulb chemicals of Pancratium, research into the volatile aromatic molecules is lagging. Much energy is divested by the plant into the biosynthesis of a delightful floral essential oil to attract pollinators in a windy beach habitat and to deter grazers. It is highly likely that Pancratium is a source of yet undiscovered aromachemicals. Many fragrant plants have medicinal value. The word Pancratium is Greek in its origins meaning "all-strength".
3. Conservation of associated insect fauna:
Such efforts will also save the abundant insect fauna that is attracted to these plants. It is important to be aware that the threatened condition of this species may concomitantly threaten the survival of other associated species. The magificent Hawkmoth that is considered to be Pancratium's major pollinator is already almost extinct. Thus attention to the associated insects of Pancratium is another objective that requires support.
4. Loss of genetic diversity - a pre-extinction marker?
Genetic studies of sea daffodil populations In Lebanon and other Mediteranian countries show a drastic reduction in Pancratium's genetic variability. Such a study has not yet been performed in Israel, but the loss of genetic material elsewhere in the region is disconcerting. It may be that the threat of extinction caused this amazing flower that used to grow abundantly to change its reproductive mode within 40 short years from obligatory insect-pollination to self-pollination...
5. Cultivation as an aid to conservation:
The sea daffodil could serve as a potential ornamental bulbous crop with attractive large highly fragrant white flowers and long flowering season. Myself and other growers have found that Pancratium grows well in a variety of soil and weather conditions.
6. Conservation via education:
This project will include an educational aspect in calling for greater attention to the impact of human action
on the nature's gifts whose fragile beauty and health benefits can disappear virtually overnight without proper vigilance.
A Pan-Mediteranean collaboration to investigate the drop in genetic variation and rehabilitation of this species is called for now. The possibility of collaboration with Lebanese researchers who are very concerned w/ thus species decline on their shores may be a potential bonus for the political scene. Holding a Pancratium conservation conference whereby such collaborations could be fostered, since Pancratium knows no political borders, is vital and urgent.
The Sea Daffodil is hardy and can make a come-back with proper protective conservation measures.
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