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Plant Focus

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Dwarf cultivars can be ideal for a small garden. Here are three "mini oaks". 

Dr. Michael Avishai (1935-2018)

Michael Avishai 1
Michael Avishai © Amnon Avishai

Dr. Michael Avishai, a leading oak expert, botanist, and horticulturist in Israel and worldwide, passed away last December, leaving a huge emptiness and sadness in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and beyond. Michael was born in Berlin and spent his childhood in hiding in Czechoslovakia (1939-1945). He told us of the times he used to run away into the woods from the anti-Semitic village where he was hiding and how this was where his love of oaks was rooted. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel and joined Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz on the northern coast. In 1963 he started working as Prof. Michael Zohary’s assistant in establishing the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and separately in the botanical planning of Ramat Hanadiv gardens. Concurrently, he was working on a Masters degree in botany on the geography and taxonomy of the Middle Eastern oaks. In that period he drew 33 fantastic line drawings of all the oaks of the Middle East, drawings that were published in several publications and in internet websites and are used to this day. In 1978 Michael completed a PhD researching evolutionary genetics of the Oncocyclus irises.

Michael helped establish the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens with his own two hands and worked there for over five decades, first as a gardener and then as the Gardens' managing director. During this time he wrote, researched, educated, and taught till his last day. The Gardens harbor today more than 6,000 species, many of which were collected by Michael. His research on oaks and irises, conducted at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, is regarded as trailblazing and is still cited today. Oaks fascinated him his whole life; he created at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens the largest oak collection in Israel and one of the important ones in the world, with 72 different species, many of which are rare in cultivation, and some of which were introduced to streets, parks, and gardens in Israel. He continued to monitor and study the different oaks in the gardens and only last year he published with his co-authors an important paper: "Comparative systematics and phylogeography of Quercus Section Cerris in western Eurasia: inferences from plastid and nuclear DNA variation"[1]. In this paper he made it clear that Quercus look of Mt. Hermon is a good species; the DNA analysis confirmed the observations of his sharp eye in the field. I remember hiking with him a few years ago in Mt. Hermon, looking for this interesting oak. At some point he disappeared and I was a bit worried that he might have gotten lost, calling him with no answer. Hearing some branch movements, I suddenly saw him above me, seven meters above the ground, collecting acorns from a Q. look tree. I was much younger than him and I wouldn't have dared to climb that tree; Michael was always young in spirit.

MIchael Avishai
Michael Avishai examining a Quercus pedunculiflora in Jerusalem Botanical Gardens @ Ori Fragman-Sapir 

He taught generations of students in the Hebrew University and in the Botanical Gardens, his classes often ending with rounds of applause – a rare sight these days. Michael wrote dozens of important papers and co-authored the important book: Cultivated plants of Israel, which includes identification keys to the whole local garden flora.

Avishai aquatics
Michael examines Victoria hybrid plants that he grew himself, just before they are planted in Jerusalem Botanical Garden's lake @ Ori Fragman-Sapir 

He was “Mr. Botanical Gardens” in Israel, with his vision and energy he created the model for botanical gardens in Israel. Other gardens followed the success of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, among them the garden in Ein Gedi, Mt. Scopus, and others. He was incredibly knowledgeable, a gentleman with an indomitably energetic spirit; he will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

Quercus hartwissiana
Michael's drawing of Quercus hartwissiana
Quercus look
Quercus look
Quercus pubescens
Quercus pubescens var. pubescens