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The Blood of the Maccabees flower

That is correct, we have a small wildflower here in Israel called the Blood of the Maccabees. I agree that this is quite a macabre name for such a cute little flower. However there is a long history behind this local wildflower and its unusual name. 

Which actual sums up nearly anything of interest in Israel - the ancient history of this land continually soaks into our everyday lives.

Apart from its unusual look, like I can totally get the ‘drops of blood’ thing, this Israeli wildflower has another claim to fame. It is the symbol of our annual Memorial Day. On this day we cry for all the fallen soldiers in all of the wars and also for the victims of terror attacks.

The symbol of the Israeli Memorial Day

During the Israeli Memorial Day places of entertainment are closed and flags are lowered half-mast. Nearly every municipality has a wreath-laying ceremony where it is customary to wear white clothes. Small stickers are handed out at these ceremonies with a picture of a small red flower and the words “I will remember.”

Every year the Defense Ministry's Commemoration Division gives out about four million stickers with a drawing of the Blood of the Maccabees flower. Like most of the wildflowers in Israel, this plant is protected by law and cannot be picked. 

This small flower with its unusual petals is called the Blood of the Maccabees flower, in Hebrew it is known as דם המכבים (Dam haMaccabim). It’s Latin name is Helichrysum sanguineum and apparently it is known in English as the red everlasting flower. Though I have never heard or read of anybody referring to this wildflower by this name.

It blooms here in the springtime, just like most of the other wildflowers in Israel. As coincidence would have it, or maybe it is not coincidence, this is also the time that we have our annual Memorial Day. 

A flower of our own

The Blood of the Maccabees flower officially became the symbol of Memorial Day in 1955. This was definitely inspired by the Remembrance Poppy that was sold to raise funds for the families of fallen veterans in the Commonwealth countries. The red colour of the poppy is a symbol of the blood of the British soldiers who fell on the Flanders Fields during World War I.

However a new symbol, or flower, was needed in Israel. Something that is not associated with the previous British rulers but rather represents the connection to ancient Jewish life in Israel.

Going back into history

This sweet little innocent flower was named in 1923 in Israel by Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni because it looks like small drops of blood. This was long before the Holocaust, Israel’s declaration of independence and the all wars fought to keep this independence.

The reason, I think, that they called this flower the Blood of the Maccabees and not the Blood of the Hebrews or anyone else was because the Maccabees fought so hard for self-rule.

The Maccabees were a group of Jews who organized a successful rebellion against the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV and reconsecrated the defiled Temple of Jerusalem. In 174 BC Israel was then part of the Syrian-Greek Empire. It’s ruler Antiochus wanted to unify the entire kingdom via a common religion and culture and punished the noncompliant Jews by forbidding the practice of Jewish law.

After several years and many lives lost, the small Jewish army managed to beat the much larger, and professional Greek army. Apparently there is a legend that says that a small flower instantly grew and bloomed wherever a Maccabee warrior’s blood was spilled.

It is no surprise that these round small flowers with its deep-red color are associated with drops of blood

Jews ruled over the land of Israel again for the next 80 years...until the Romans showed up in 63 BC.

Though the Maccabees did not rule for that long, they fought hard to bring the spirit of freedom and independence to the people of Israel. Their steadfast determination and strength is still celebrated until this day.

A small and tough flower for a small and tough country

The small Blood of the Maccabees flower may look skinny and delicate but don’t let its looks deceive you. I found it growing happily on a rocky hilltop.

Israel is a tough country for all its inhabitants, also for the flora of this land. Our summers are hot and cruel and half of the country is a desert. It often does not rain enough in the winter. And if it does rain, the rain can be relentless and severe - not a civilized drizzle. 

I think that this tough and pretty little flower is the perfect symbol to remember the people who have died defending this harsh land.

I found these flowers growing on a rocky hilltop between the rocks and weeds

Here are a few other blog posts about the flowers of Israel:

Ten tips for photographing wildflowers in Israel
The yearly pilgrimage to Cyclamen mountain
The wild mustard flowers of Israel

If you are looking for any photos of the Blood of Maccabees flower, you can have a look at these photos that I have uploaded to
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