Flora Palaestina; conserving the plants, preserving the knowledge. MERC USAID M36-010. (2016-2018)

Project Date
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Flora Palaestina is the botanical description originally adopted by Linnaeus in the 18th century of plants growing in the area of the Holy Land. Floristic exploration of this region extends back thousands of years with the earliest recorded descriptions by Theophrastos in the 4th Century BCE. Many botanists since then, particularly in the last 150 years have contributed to this body of knowledge.

Flora Palaestina is an integral part of the traditions and culture and  a vital contributor to its  economy for  millennia. A wide variety  of uses are recorded including as food, medicines (human and veterinary) cosmetics, spices, perfumes, dyes,  agriculture and as raw materials e.g.in building, basket and  rope making, clothing etc. Medicinal plants are particularly prevalent with estimates that some 30% of local species have medicinal activity. The region also contains some of the world`s most important wild progenitors of domesticated crops including  wild barley, wheat, oats, garlic, peas, lentils and chick peas, the original  source of much of the world`s food supply.

Information on the ethno-botanical and economic  uses of Flora Palaestina  are derived from both a verbal tradition passed down through generations in Arab Palestinian communities and from historical texts in a variety of ancient languages.

Despite this rich legacy and its multicultural importance many plants of Flora Palaestina are currently threatened. Environmental degradation, climate change, urban development and an accelerating loss of wild habitat have resulted today in some 102 species (5.2%) of species to be classified as on the "Red List" of endangered species. In addition, at least 18 species have become locally extinct in the last 50 years (Ali-Shtayeh and Jamous, 2018).

The unique traditional knowledge of plant use transmitted through generations is also rapidly disappearing as traditional healers are replaced by medical clinics and local village economies once dependent on plant use for local industry are replaced by modern industrial development and commercial imports. 
The current research project builds on earlier programs carried out by the investigators over number of years devoted to preserving the historical and traditional uses of Flora Palaestina and conserving individual species in limited domestication formats. 

The TAPHM database has enabled BERC to develop traditional ecological knowledge profiles of Flora Palaestina, and use  this information as a  basis for the focused scientific screening of selected plants against diseases including   infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal), cancer and Alzheimer’s with successful results indicating the value of this method (Ali-Shtayeh, Jamous, & Abu Zaitoun, 2015). 

In conjunction with preserving traditional knowledge of plant use, BERC has also undertaken domestication programs of selected species. These measures have contributed to conservation of a number of regional plants, trees and shrubs, including rare and endangered species, the reintroduction of several locally extinct species once common to the area and establishment of a small seed bank.

BERC has established Botanical Gardens and programs for a wide range of endangered and threatened plants and their habitats and through its research unit carried out extensive applied research aiming at plant conservation and ethno pharmacology using advanced technologies. These studies include extensive ethno-botanical research on the use of local medicinal plants in Traditional Arabic Palestinian Herbal Medicine (TAPHM). Based on these findings BERC has developed an Arabic language web-based database (www.berc-taphm.com) on local ethno-botanical use in the Palestinian  population . BERC has also  surveyed over 600 plant species growing in Palestine (West Bank) for potential bioactivity (medicinal value) using the versatile Screens-to-Nature (STN) technology (Ali-Shtayeh, Jamous, & Abu Zaitoun, 2015) developed, under the auspices of the Global Institute for BioExploration (GIBEX) (www.gibex.org) supported by the EU. Much original information arising from 12 STN assays targeting infectious diseases, metabolic disorders (diabetes and obesity), and general health protection (anti-inflammatory/antioxidant).

Project Aims and Objectives

The project aims to:

  • create an ethno-botanical website of the native plants of Palestine (Flora Palaestina) in order to preserve and make publicly available the traditional and historical knowledge of their use.
     
  • evaluate the plants of Flora Palaestina for their economic potential based on ethno-botanical use and existing phytochemical research data.
     
  • domesticate and conserve genetic diversity of selected wild species of Flora Palaestina in ex-situ cultivation sites based on their economic potential.
     
Achivments

Articles:

Ali-Shtayeh M. S., and Rana M Jamous R. M. Updating the Plant “Red List” of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza Strip): Conservation assessments and recommendations. Journal of Biodiversity & Endangered Species 2018, 6:4 DOI: 10.4172/2332-2543.1000228
 

Project Partners and Collaborators
International
Hadassah
AIES
Project Funders
USAID/MERC