The Jerusalem Post

The Israeli sabra: A prickly plant

- Photos and text: ITSIK MAROM

The sabra plant is a cactus known in English as prickly pear. Its origin is in North America, probably from Mexico, from where it was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century. Over the years it spread to many neighborin­g countries, as well as to Israel and other countries in the Middle East.

The plant became especially widespread in Israel during the Ottoman period. As a very spiny, impenetrab­le plant, it was used as a living fence on the border of agricultur­e fields and as a means of village protection.

Since 1997, a number of farms have been growing the sabra cactus for its sweet exotic fruit, rich in vitamin C. The cultivated plant has a minimum of thorns compared to those that grow wild in nature.

While today you can buy these fruits in the supermarke­ts, in the past, only the brave and experience­d would attempt to pick, peel and eat the very well-protected, delicious fruit. In addition to the plant’s needle-sharp threatenin­g thorns, the fruit is covered with hundreds of tiny thorns that look deceptivel­y nonthreate­ning but easily stick to your fingers and tongue if you do not successful­ly remove them before biting into the sweet fruit inside.

The Sabra plant, Tzabar in Hebrew, is the name used for a native-born Israeli. The nickname suits the native Israeli, who is often seen as rough and a little prickly on the outside, with a gentle and sweet heart on the inside, like the fruit.

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