CROWN OF THORNS (στεφανὸς ἐξ ἀκανθω̂ν). This “wreath of thorns” (Weymouth) may have been made from the Syrian Christ-Thorn, Zizyphus spina-christi. This is a twelve ft. shrub, having two large, sharp recurved thorns at the bottom of each leaf. It is common in Pal., and esp. so near the site of Golgotha.
The plant, however, is prob. Paliurus spina-christi, the Christ Thorn. This is a dwarf, easier-to-pick shrub, four to eight ft. high. The branches are easy to plait or curve. The thorns are stiff, spiky, and in pairs of unequal length.
The “crown of thorns” (Matt 27:29 and John 19:2) is certainly not the plant, Euphorbia splendens, which is grown under this name today.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Three of the four evangelists mention the crown of thorns, wherewith the rude Roman soldiers derided the captive Christ (Mt 27:29; Mr 15:17; Joh 19:2). All speak of the akanthine (Acanthus) crown, but there is no certainty about the peculiar plant, from the branches of which this crown of cruel mockery was plaited. The rabbinical books. mention no less than twenty-two words in the Bible signifying thorny plants, and the word akantha in the New Testament Greek is a generic and not a specific term. And this word or its adjective is used in the three Gospels, quoted above. It is therefore impossible definitely to determine what was the exact plant or tree, whose thorny branches were selected for this purpose. Tobler (Denkbl., 113, 179) inclines to the Spina Christi, as did Hasselquist. Its botanical name is Zizyphus Spina Christi, It is very common in the East. Its spines are small and sharp, its branches soft, round and pliable, and the leaves look like ivy, with a dark, shiny green color, making them therefore very adaptable to the purpose of the soldiers. Others have designated the Paliurus aculeatus or the Lycium horridum. Both Geikie (Life of Christ, 549) and Farrar (Life of Christ, note 625) point to the Nubk (Zizyphus lotus). Says the latter, "The Nubk struck me, as it has all travelers in Palestine, as being most suitable both for mockery and pain, since its leaves are bright and its thorns singularly strong. But though the Nubk is very common on the shores of Galilee, I saw none of it near Jerusalem." The settlement of the question is manifestly impossible.
Henry E. Dosker