Flora

FLORA. The Linnean Society, prob. the oldest Botanical society in the world, of Burlington House, London, says that there are in the plant world 111 natural orders. The Royal Horticultural Society, in its Dictionary of Gardening, published in 1951, gives the following explantion for the term “Natural Order”: “E.g., family: a group of one or more genera, having close natural affinity, the term is now more usually applied to a group of families nearly related to one another.”

The R.H.S. also says that genus (genera) is a group of species with common structural characters, which may be supposed to have derived in the remote past from some common ancestor. The main characters on which reliance is placed in defining “genera” are found in the flower, fruit and seed.

The number of species in a genus may be extremely large, or may be only one, so much structurally isolated from its nearest relative as to stand by itself. The name of the genus in designating a plant is placed first and invariably has a capital initial letter.

In this Biblical encyclopedia, the rules of the Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary have been adhered to. The correct Lat. names have been given in each case, as far as the writer can ascertain them; the generic name has been given, together with the species, and in some cases, the common Eng. name as well.

Of the 111 natural orders recognized by the Linnean Society, some fifty-four are found in the Bible, either in the OT or NT, while a few appear in the Apoc. It must be remembered that the Bible is largely an Eastern book, and the natural orders that are included are those normally found in the Middle E.

In order to cover the whole Flora of the Bible methodically and intelligently, the natural orders are dealt with in alphabetical order.

Classification of Biblical plants

Outline

Acanthaceae: The only plant mentioned in this natural order is the Acanthus syriacus, tr. “nettles” (Job 30:7; Zeph 2:9). This is a common weed in Pal., growing strongly and having spiny leaves.

Amaryllidaceae: Only one plant mentioned is in this natural order—the Narcissus tazetta. This is what is called today a Polyanthus Narcissus, and is tr. as “rose” (Isa 35:1 KJV). It is very sweet smelling, and is plentiful in the Sharon Plain. It grows on the hills around Jerusalem and Jericho.

Anacardiaceae: There are three trees that are grouped in this natural order—Pistacia lentiscus, tr. “a little balm” (Gen 43:11)—a shrubby, evergreen dwarfish tree, which produces a scented gum from its branches when pierced; P. terebinthus, which seems to be mentioned seven times, often as elah...(1 Sam 17:2), also as “elms” (Hos 4:13), and as “turpentine tree” (Ecclus 24:16). This species of Pistacia which has a variety known as palaestina, is an oak-like, deciduous tree, growing twenty to twenty-four ft. high, which produces almost invisible flowers, followed by pretty, red fruits. When the branches are pierced, a Cyprus turpentine oozes out. Pistacia vera is tr. “nuts” (Gen 43:11 KJV), and this spreading tree can grow to a height of thirty ft. It bears lightcolored nuts, containing greenish-yellow kernels, which are sweet to the taste.

Apocynaceae: Mentioned in the Apoc. only, and tr. as “rose” or “rose plant” (Ecclus 24:14; 39:13). This is prob. the Nerium oleander, or, to give it its common name, oleander. It is a beautiful flowering shrub, which grows up to twelve ft. tall, bearing masses of white or pink flowers. These are often double, and it is claimed for this reason that they have a rose-like look. The leaves are evergreen, but they are poisonous.

Araliaceae: Only one plant is included under this natural order—the ivy, Hedera helix (2 Macc 6:7). No one doubts that this is the common Eng. or British ivy, which was plaited into wreaths, and often worn on the head like crowns by those who were to go in procession in the temple. As a plant, the ivy was dedicated to the wine god, Bacchus, by the Greeks in Biblical days. Today, the plant has lost its heathen connotation.

Burseraceae: A natural order of thirteen genera and 320 species, all of which are shrubs and trees which grow in the tropics only. The flowers are generally small and unisexual, the fruits are capsules or drupes, and most of the species produce resins or balsam.

Commiphora abyssinica (synonym C. africana) is a small, thorny tree from which the myrrh is obtained; both the wood and the bark produce a strong scent. This is the Heb. word mōr....It was said originally that the myrrh undoubtedly came from Commiphora myrrha, but C. myrrha was called Balsamodendron myrrha many years ago, and recently the botanists have renamed the plant Canarium— from canari, the Malayan name.

The myrrh found in Exodus 30:23; Psalm 45:8; Matthew 2:11—to mention only three of the twelve references—undoubtedly came from the plant normally called Commiphora, but the writer is not certain to which special species this refers.

Butomaceae: The plant found in this natural order is Butomus umbellatus, the flag mentioned in Job 8:11 (KJV), and prob. the word “meadow,” so tr. in Genesis 41:2. The word used here is Egyp. and not truly Heb. and would appear to be a reed grass or flowering rush, as the Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary calls it. This would be eaten by the cattle, and would grow in the marshy sides of a river.

Buxaceae: In this natural order is found Buxus longifolia only. This is the box tree of Isaiah 41:19 and 60:13. It is also mentioned as “boxtrees” in 2 Esdras 14:24 (KJV). The box is a slender, hardy evergreen, which may grow twenty ft. high. The wood is hard and polishes well, and so is much used for carving, wood engraving, furniture and the like. Because this tree is not found in Pal. today it has been argued that it could not have been there in Biblical days. It is far more sensible to believe that the trees were so popular and coveted that they became extinct in that country.

Capparidaceae: If the word “desire” (Eccl 12:5) should be tr. “caper berry,” then the plant is Capparis sicula, and within this natural order. The common caper is found growing profusely in many parts of Pal., and esp. on the hilly slopes round about Jerusalem. It can cover ruins like ivy, or it can spread over the ground. Not only are the berries picked, pickled and used in the kitchen, but the little unopened flower buds are also popular when pickled in vinegar. It is claimed that the caper buds or berries have a stimulating effect, particularly on men!

Caryophyllaceae: Only one plant is mentioned from this natural order—Agrostemma githago. This is surely the “corn cockle” (Job 31:40). The Heb. word בָאְשָׁ֑ה could mean noisome weeds. The corn cockle, however, is a common weed in fields of wheat in Pal. It is a strong grower and can be a great nuisance. It can grow two and three ft. tall. The blooms are much like those of the Campion, and can be white, red or purple.

Chenopodiaceae: There is only one plant in the natural order Atriplex halimus, commonly called the Sea Purslane. Here the reference is to the “mallows” (Job 30:4 RSV). The Heb. word מַלּ֣וּחַ has a salt connotation to it. Therefore, it seems that it is a saltwort, often called “orach.” The halimus species is the Sea Purslane. It is naturally found round about the Dead Sea. There are incidentally over twenty species of Atriplex in Pal.

Cistaceae: There are three possible entries under this natural order—Cistus salvifolius, C. creticus and C. villosus. It all depends how one trs. the word לֹט, H4320, “myrrh” (Gen 37:25; 43:11). The scented product could indeed have come from one of the flowering rock-roses whose Lat. names are found above. The name “ladanum”...is spelled “ladan” in Arab.—“labdanum” in some old writings. This is a gummy, dark-brown, blackish substance, which will ooze out of the foliage and little stems of the Cistus plants. This gum is very fragrant. It is collected by drawing a piece of material over a bush, and the substance sticks to the cloth and can afterward be removed. It is wondered whether Cistus creticus really ought to go into this list, as it is not predominently Palestinian.

Compositae: There are nine plants that can be included in this natural order. The first is the Anthemis palaestina—the chamomile, with its aromatic leaves and daisy-like little flowers. This is very common in Pal., where the plants are in flower from February to May and June. The plants are dried like hay, and can be burned, as Scripture suggests (Luke 12:27, 28).

The second in this group, Artemesia herbaalba, the wormwood, mentioned many times (Deut 29:18 KJV, Prov 5:4 RSV, Jeremiah 9:15, and goes on through Lamentations, Hosea, Amos, and on to Revelation 8:11). All wormwood has an acrid smell, and the leaves taste bitter. The ancient Jews thought the plants to be poisonous. Herba-alba is the most common species in Pal.—there is a camphor fragrance to it.

There is also Artemesia judaica, which is found only in a few parts of Pal. now. It is included because one cannot be absolutely sure to which species Scripture refers.

It is thought that the thistle mentioned in Genesis 3:18; Hosea 10:8 and even 2 Kings 14:9 and 2 Chronicles 25:18, is the Star Thistle, Centaurea calcitrapa. The problem here is that one cannot obviously be sure of the species, let alone the genus. There are other thistles found in Pal. today like Centaurea iberica or Centaurea verutum. As the writer states under “Thistle” there is a possibility that “bramble” would be a better tr. or even “thorn bush.”

If the bitter herbs found in Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11 are chicory, then the plant is prob. Cichorium intybus. It could as easily be the C. endivia, the “endive,” which is much used as a salad today. In Great Britain, roots of chicory are forced in heat and in the dark, in order to produce the golden chicons used as a salad. In Pal., the leaves of both these plants would be eaten as growing, and this is why they were described as tasting bitter. The bitterness is removed today by blanching, which is the etiolation of the leaves by keeping out the light.

The next plant to be found in this natural order is Saussurea lappa, which is found as the word “cassia” (Ps 45:8). This, as will be found under “Cassia” is known as the Orris root. The plant is a perennial with strong roots, and looks like a thistle when growing, often six feet high.

The Gundelia tournefortii is best described as a prickly, milky herb with headlets of six to seven flowerets. The leaves are leathery, thick and rigid, having prominent veins; the plants usually are easy to find around Nazareth and Jerusalem, and near the sea of Tiberias. This is one of the plants thought to be the “rolling thing” (Isa 17:13), now known as the Gundelia. It is a thistle-like plant, which can curl up into a ball and so rolls in the wind. It collects sometimes in the hollows or dips. The Heb. experts in Pal. at the present time feel that the Heb. word galgal should be tr. Gundelia, and there is, of course, some similarity in the name.

Notobasis syriaca is a very common Palestinian plant found growing on the roadsides and in the fields. The stems are erect and branching, and the leaves are glabrous above and hairy below, and they are edged with spines. The flowerets are tubular. This is one of the thistle-like plants which may find a place in Scripture, being, say, the Syrian thistle mentioned in Isaiah 34:13 or Job 31:40. It would certainly have been a commonlyknown thistle to Job.

Xanthium spinosum is the Burrweed or Clot Burr found at the roadsides, bearing tripartite, green leaves, wedge-shaped at base, with strong yellow spines. This may be the plant referred to in Isaiah 34:13 and Hosea 9:6. The Clot Burr, as it is called, is very prickly. The plants are usually three ft. tall and produce tiny green flowers at the top of the stems.

Cruciferae: It seems that three plants can be included in this natural order in the Bible. First of all the “wheel” (Ps 83:13 KJV), the rolling thing (Isa 17:13 KJV, and even the rose plant (Ecclus 24:14). This is presumed to be the Anastatica hierochuntica. This tumbleweed of Pal. is known in Great Britain as the Resurrection Plant. It grows flat on the ground and after flowering and seeding, the plant curls up to form a hollow ball. Later, the stem breaks in two and the ball rolls away in the wind. As it travels it sows the seeds it contains. This spreads the weed everywhere. Thousands may be seen in Pal., rolling about and traveling at a fast rate in gales.

The second plant is the mustard, the Brassica nigra, and is found in Matthew 13:31 “a grain of mustard seed,” and 17:20; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19; and lastly, Luke 17:6. The Gr. word is σίναπι, G4983. In Pal. the plant was grown for the oil it produced and not for the yellow condiment so much used today. This annual plant normally grows four ft. high, but the writer has seen in Pal. plants growing to a height of fifteen ft.

The third plant in this natural order is Sinapsis arvensis, the nettles found in Proverbs 24:31—“nettles had covered the face thereof.” These nettles are prob. charlock—a very common weed in fields of wheat. It looks like mustard, having yellow flowers and grows about three ft. high.

Cucurbitaceae: If the gall mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:18; Psalm 69:21; Jeremiah 8:14, and Lamentations 3:5, is the Citrullus colocynthis, then this must be included in the Cucurbits. This may be described as a clambering plant like a squash or marrow, bearing round, orange-like fruits, with a very hard skin. It is a very common plant in Pal.; the fruits look tempting, but when eaten are found to be extremely bitter, and indeed, poisonous.

The second plant found in this natural order is the cucumber, Cucumis sativus (Num 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8). It is said that these were much eaten because they were easy to grow and were cheap, by the children of Israel when in bondage in Egypt. Whether the cucumbers they ate were the normal ones grown today, or the Cucumis chate, the writer cannot tell. This species has been described as being somewhat variable in shape; the fruit being fusiform, or cylindrical, and a foot long or more. It develops a woody rind and is picked before it reaches the ripe state, and is then cooked and eaten. This information (concerning the C. chate) was supplied by Sir George Taylor, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England.

Cynomoriaceae, sometimes called Balanophoraceae. Cynomorium cocineum is a parasitic plant found in the salt marshes and in the sand dunes, as well as in the Plain of Jericho toward the Dead Sea. It bears a crimson petal-like leaf called a spathe, which makes it very conspicuous. Some people have thought that the roots Job ate (Job 30:4) were the roots of Cynomorium.

Cyperaceae: The only plant that is found under this natural order is Cyperus papyrus. This plant was almost a menace along the sides of the Nile in Biblical days, and was the bulrush from which the papyrus paper was made (Exod 2:3; Job 8:11; Isa 19:6; 58:5). These rushes are said to have grown as high as sixteen ft. and could be three inches thick. It is no wonder when they were growing in a mass that they could hide little Moses floating in his basket made with the same flags.

Ebenaceae: There is little doubt that the ebony found in Ezekiel 27:15 is Diospyros ebenum. This is the best of many kinds of ebony. Large trees can be produced whose heart wood is usually jet black, though occasionally streaked brown or yellow. It is extremely heavy and strong. The Diospyros lotus also is found in this natural order, being the date plum, sometimes called Diospyros ebenaster. This, however, in the writer’s opinion, is not the tree that is referred to in Scripture.

Elaeagnaceae: Though in this natural order there are three genera and about forty-five species, the only one that seems to appear in the Bible is the oleaster, Elaeagnus angustifolia. Elaia means “olive,” and this perhaps gives the connection between the olive tree mentioned in 1 Kings 6:23 and 1 Chronicles 27:28. The oleaster is a deciduous tree growing some twenty ft. high, with spiny branches and narrow, oblong leaves. The flowers are yellow within and silver without, and the fruits are yellowish, oval, with silvery scales. They are mealy and sweet. Some writers have called this tree the Wild Olive, but this does not mean that it is truly related to Olea europaea.

Fagaceae: Oaks are mentioned again and again in Scripture, starting in Genesis 35:4, and ending in Zechariah 11:2, though it is true that the scarlet of Revelation 18:12 is prob. the dye from the Kermes Oak tree. It is difficult to know for certain which oaks were grown in Pal. at the time, but there is little doubt that the list included the Valonia oak, Quercus aegilops, which produces the largest acorn cups and acorns of any species. The tree is widely spread in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It undoubtedly includes also the Kermes Oak, or Grain Tree, so called because it is the host plant of the Kermes insect (Chermes ilicis) which produces a remarkable scarlet dye. The leaves are thick, hard and prickly; the acorns solitary on a short stalk, more than half enclosed in the cup. This is the most pleasing of the dwarf evergreen oaks. There is a variety of Coccifera called Pseudo coccifera, which is also found in Pal., and it is said that Abraham’s oak tree at Mamre was this variety.

The Holm Oak, Quercus ilex, could also be included because it is a native of the Eastern Mediterranean, being an evergreen tree of good size, often from eighty to ninety ft. high. The acorns are usually 3/4\" long, produced two or three together on a short stalk. There has been a suggestion that Quercus lusitanica should be included, but this is a native of Spain or Portugal. There is a variety infectoria, which is found in Asia Minor, but the only tree the writer has seen is small and elegant, with grayish foliage. It does not therefore seem to fit in with the Biblical descriptions.

Gramineae: This natural order concerns the family of grasses in which there are 400 genera and 5,000 species at least. They are all monocotyledons. The starch seeds sometimes also rich in protein, make a number of species of this natural order valuable food for man and beast. The leaves of some other species are used today for their fiber and for paper making.

The first plant of nine or ten found in the Bible in this natural order is Andropogon aromaticus (synonym Calamus aromaticus), found as the “sweet calamus” (KJV, Exodus 30:23; Song of Solomon; Ezek 27:19). This is the ginger grass of the E which all kinds of cattle love to eat. The foliage, when cut, smells of ginger, and when eaten tastes of ginger, while from the grass may be obtained a ginger-oil.

A second plant is prob. the Arundo donax, the reed found in 2 Kings 18:21; Job 40:21; Isaiah 42:3; Ezekiel 40:3 and Matthew 11:7. It is the Giant Reed or Persian Reed, which can grow to a height of eighteen ft. and was used for fishing rods, walking sticks, and even musical instruments.

There is little doubt about the next in this list—the “barley” of Exodus 9:31; Leviticus 27:16; Deuteronomy 8:8; Ruth 1:22; 2 Samuel 14:30; Job 31:40, and so on. The barleys are Hordeum; the spring-sown barley, Hordeum vulgare; the winter-sown barley, Hordeum hexastichon; and the common barley, Hordeum distichon. Bread made from barley was considered food for the poor, hence the poor boy who had five small barley loaves and two fishes. Gideon being poor also is referred to as a cake of barley (Judg 7:13). Today, barley is made into beer, but it was not so in Biblical days. Barley is an easy crop to grow in the E because it puts up with drought better than wheat, and it is ready for harvest four weeks earlier than wheat as a rule.

Panicum miliaceum is the old Lat. name for the true European “millet.” This is the millet found in Ezekiel 4:9, and prob. in Ezekiel 27:17, where the word pannag...is used. This bears a very small grain. The grass itself does not grow more than two ft. high. In Biblical days it was used for food, but today it is almost entirely bird seed. Large fields of millet are still grown in Pal. in some parts.

If the “sweet cane” mentioned in Isaiah 43:24 is Saccharum officinarum, then this must be included in the Gramineae. It is a strong growing perennial grass, looking something like sweet corn, maize or mealies. It certainly was not made into sugar until perhaps the 7th cent., but it may have been sucked and chewed by the Israelites as a kind of “sweet” or “candy.” The sweetening of drinks in Biblical times was undoubtedly by the addition of honey.

Once again one cannot be absolutely sure about Sorghum vulgare, which is possibly the reed mentioned in Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36. This is the name given to a millet widely grown in warmer countries under such names as durra...or the Egyp. Rice Corn, the Tunis Grass, used for forage, and the Kaffir Corn.

The Triticums are the wheats found again and again in Scripture as corn (Gen 40:2), as bread and wheat and flour (Exod 29:2), as wheat (Judges 6:11), as parched corn (1 Sam 17:17), and even as ground corn (2 Sam 17:19). As in the case of barley, there is winter sown wheat and spring sown wheat, both Triticum aestivum; the bearded wheat, Triticum compositum; the one grained wheat, Triticum monoccum; and the Egyp. wheat, Triticum tungidum. Today in Pal., triticum durum and Triticum vulgare are grown almost entirely. Wheat has always been one of the most important crops of Pal., and has been called “the staff of life.” The word “corn” in the KJV is the old Eng. word for grain and has nothing to do with maize or American corn.

Lolium temulentum is an annual, called the Bearded Darnel, sometimes referred to as tares, which is found in the fields of grain around Jaffa and Jericho.

Iridaceae: Two plants, the writer feels, are included in this natural order: (1) The Crocus sativus, and (2) the Iris pseudacorus.

This is a family of some fifty-seven genera and over 800 species. Most are tuberous or rhizomatous plants of great importance to the gardener.

The Iris pseudacorus is the yellow flag iris which grows three ft. high, and is found in Europe as well as in the Middle E. The flowers are bright yellow and almost scentless. This is presumed to be the lily (Hosea 14:5; Ecclus 39:14; 50:8).

There were numerous irises grown in Pal., but this species is the one that grows by the water side, and so fits the full description in Ecclesiasticus 50:8, “as lilies by the rivers of waters.” The other species grow largely on the hillsides.

The shûshan, tr. “lily,” seems similar to the Arab. word sûsan, given to Iris species in Pal.

The saffron (Song of Solomon 4:14) is prob. the Crocus sativus or saffron crocus. This was grown in very large quantities in Saffron Waldon, Essex, for the saffron powder used to flavor cakes and puddings. Four hundred crocus stigmas are needed to produce one ounce of saffron powder.

This crocus is fairly common in Pal. today, and was certainly known to Joshua.

Juglandaceae: The name of this natural order is derived from Jovis glans, i.e. Jupiter’s Acorn. There are sixteen species, all of them deciduous trees bearing walnuts—the common walnut being Juglans regia—a tree which will grow to a height of 100 ft. Not only are the nuts much prized but the wood is classed as one of the best timbers. It is much used for furniture.

This is the tree referred to in Song of Solomon 6:11. Juglans regia is not indigenous to Pal., but must have been introduced long before Solomon’s time. The beautiful shade as well as the fragrant leaves and delicious nuts the trees give would have been much beloved by Solomon’s relatives and friends.

Labiatae: This natural order contains 160 genera and 3000 species, only two of which are found in the Bible. Curiously enough though, the family is widely distributed—particularly so in the Mediterranean region. It is a natural order that contains most of the culinary herbs like marjoram, thyme, savory, rosemary, sage, basil, horehound, and so on.

There are two plants found in this natural order, the first being Mentha longifolia, seen as “mint” (Matt 23:23 and Luke 11:42). This is the common house or hairy mint, which grows three ft. high and has pale purple flowers. Why some have suggested this could be Mentha sativa, the writer cannot understand, because this is really a cross Mentha arvensis x Mentha spicata, and it is doubted whether it was in existence in the NT days.

The second plant is “hyssop,” Origanum maru, called ’ezôb in the Heb. It is a shrubby plant, growing about forty inches high with erect, stiff, hairy branches, and long, hairy, thick leaves. The flowers are purplish, being borne in oblong spikes. It is quite common in Pal. and Syria (Exod 12:22; Lev 14:4; 1 Kings 4:33; Ps 51:7).

Lauraceae: A family of forty-five genera and 1000 species, mostly tropical and sub-tropical trees and shrubs, usually evergreen—all parts being aromatic. Only two species are found in the Bible—the Cinnamomum cassia and Laurus nobilis.

Cinnamomum is a genus of about forty species of evergreen trees, all of which would seem to be natives of SE Asia. The Cinnamomum cassia yields “cassia bark,” which is sometimes used as an adulterant in the true “cinnamon,” which is Cinnamomum zeylanicum. The cassia is mentioned in Exodus 30:24 and Ezekiel 27:19, and it obviously was imported—prob. from Ceylon.

Laurus nobilis is the Bay Laurel, an evergreen aromatic tree, growing often sixty ft. high. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow, often inconspicuous. The leaves are dark, shining green. This is prob. the green bay tree (Ps 37:35 KJV). It has been called bay laurel, sweet bay and bay tree. It certainly must have been a strong growing evergreen tree or shrub.

This bay is a native of Pal., and if we accept the word “towering” instead of “spreading” (Ps 37:35) then we get the rendering “spreading himself like a green bay tree,” and this is exactly what Laurus nobilis does. The writer has two in his own garden. It certainly is an easy tree to grow, and a very leafy one.

Leguminosae: A family of trees, shrubs, perennial and annual plants, diverse in habit. There are about 430 genera and some 7000 species. This is the family which has nodular outgrowths on its roots. These nodules are formed by bacteria which have the power of using the free nitrogen in the air. The plants therefore benefit and further, the nodules may be left behind for the benefit of crops that are to follow. Thus the “legume” plant may be said to enrich the soil at no cost to itself.

There appear to be eight plants in this natural order mentioned in the Bible. The first one is Acacia nilotica, which is one of the plants which some critics suggest may be the answer to the miracle of the burning bush (Exod 3:2). It is on the species, Acacia nilotica, that the parasitic plant mentioned under Lauraceae, grows.

The Astragalus tragacantha is prob. the plant referred to under “spices” (נְכֹ֣את, Gen 37:25; 43:11; Isa 39:2). It is difficult to be sure, but because the words are like the word used by the Arabs, necaat’ for gum “tragacanth,” one jumps to the conclusion that the species referred to are from the plant Astragalus tragacantha, an evergreen shrub, much branched and very thorny—only growing three ft. high as a rule.

Cercis siliquastrum is the Judas tree, which can grow to forty ft., but is usually smaller. The flowers are produced directly on the trunk and branches, giving the idea of the tree “bleeding.” The flowers are purply-red or rose. This is the tree that Judas is supposed to have hung himself in, and every year in the spring the trees “bleed,” i.e. produce small blood-like flowers in abundance (Matt 27:5) on the stems.

Genista raetam is the white Broom or juniper bush—very graceful indeed. The white sweet-pea-scented flowers are followed by pods about 3/8\" long. Its synonym is Retama raetam. This is prob. the juniper tree mentioned in 1 Kings 19:4, 5 under which Elijah sat, and may well be the plant of Psalm 120:4. The bush may grow to ten ft. high in Pal., so it could have given Elijah plenty of shade.

Lens esculenta is the lentil mentioned in Genesis 25:34, when Jacob gave Esau a soup, or when Barzillai brought food to David (2 Sam 17:28). This is a vetch-like annual plant—twelve to eighteen inches high, which produces pale blue colored sweet-pea-like striped flowers, followed by pods containing one pealike seed which splits up into the lentils known and used today.

Pterocarpus santalinus—the name comes from pteron, “wing,” and karpos, “fruit,” because the pods are surrounded by broad wings. Pterocarpus draco is the Dragon Gum Tree and Pterocarpus indicus is the Burmese rosewood. The P. santalinus is presumed to be the Almug Tree (1 Kings 10; 11, 12; 2 Chron 9:10).

Since no one quite knows where Ophir is, it is difficult to pinpoint the species of tree referred to, but it may well be the Red Sandalwood. If this is correct, one may certainly add another Legume, Trigonella foenum-graecum from treis meaning “three,” and gonu, “angle,” because the flowers have a triangular appearance. This is the annual fenugreek, which was eaten as a salad by the Egyptians and Israelites. The plant grows up to two ft. high, quite erect, and produces tiny white flowers. Years ago this plant was used in medicine and as a vegetable. It may be the plant referred to in Numbers 11:5 as “leek.”

The fenugreek bears seeds which are eaten, and the writer was told when in Cairo that the plants are cut when on the young side, and are popular even today as salad.

Faba vulgaris is undoubtedly the bean mentioned in 1 Samuel 17:28 and Ezekiel 4:9. Its synonym is Vicia faba, the broad bean. It bears white flowers with large blue-black spots on them. The pods are large and thick, often seven or eight inches long. It has been widely cultivated for years.

Liliaceae: This is a large natural order, containing over 200 genera and 2000 species distributed all over the world. Most of the species are perennials, but a few are annuals. Most of the members of the family are bulbous, but these are those with corms and rhizomes.

There are ten species mentioned in the Bible, starting with the onion, Allium cepa. It is said that it came originally from Persia. This vegetable was known and eaten in Egypt in the days of Moses. Numbers 11:5 talks of the great desire of the children of Israel for onions when they were on the march to the Promised Land. The Egyptians’ onions even today are among the best, since they ripen so well in that country.

Allium porrum is the leek—it should now be called Allium ampeloprasum porrum. This is a plant whose main stem is blanched when it can be two ft. or more long and one inch across. This is also the pot leek which is stouter and shorter, say, one foot of ivory white stem, two inches or more thick. The nomadic Israelis longed for vegetables in the wilderness (Num 11:5). Leeks make good soup, and are said to be good for the throat.

Allium sativum is the garlic (Num 11:5). This produces oblong ovate offsets around the planted bulb or clove. This is a world-wide extremely popular plant. It is claimed that this is the only plant containing freely assimilable sulphur. It is used medicinally for this reason, and if planted around peach trees prevents an attack of the Leaf Curl disease. The Jewish Talmud believes in garlic, and recommends the bulbs for seasoning dishes.

Aloe comes from the Arabian word alloeh. The cultivation of the plants goes back to the earliest of days. There are over 200 species, 110 of them being found in Africa. The aloe mentioned in Holy Writ is Aloe succotrina. It was first introduced into Great Britain in 1697. It was lost in the intervening years, and was rediscovered in 1905 in Cape Province, South Africa, by Dr. Marloth. The stem can be four ft. long, and the flowers on the top are pale red. The leaves are thick and tapered—they are pale or glaucous, sometimes blotched toward the base.

The Hyacinthus orientalis mentioned, is believed by some (S of Sol, chs. 2, 6) to be lilies. This hyacinth is certainly indigenous to Pal., and is found largely in the rocky parts. This is the Common Hyacinth, much grown today in its various forms. The Goodspeed tr. affirms the use of the hyacinth for lily in a passage as Song of Solomon 2:1—“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley.” The wild Palestinian plant is very graceful, and it is wondered whether it is now in cultivation.

Two lilies should be included in this natural order—Lilium candidum and Lilium chalcedonicum. The former is the Madonna Lily or White Lily. The flowers are pure white, rarely tinged with purple without. The length of the stem varies from two ft. to five ft. It is known to have grown in the E in Biblical days. The Lilium chalcedonicum produces bright scarlet flowers, olive brown at the base. The stems are stiff, and three to four ft. long. Lilium candidum is a poor claimant for inclusion, as a matter of fact, but for the fact that in 1925 the first of the wild candidum lilies was discovered by students—and subsequently others were found growing. It is now therefore worth saying that Lilium chalcedonicum could be the plant in Song of Solomon 5:13—“his lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh.” The writer prefers Moffat’s tr.: “lips are red lilies, breathing liquid myrr.” This, as Song of Solomon suggests, is a plant of great beauty. This lovely scarlet lily may have been rare in the Holy Land, but there is little doubt that it was known then. In fact, it is catalogued at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England, as a Palestinian plant.

Ornithogalum umbellatum, commonly called the Star of Bethlehem, because of its starry white satiny flowers, has bulbs 1 1/2 inches thick, and the stems are often one ft. high. The writer has seen it growing in Pal. and in the Maltese Islands. It is a very close relation to the popular South African Chincherinchee, Ornithogalum thyrsoides. Its name comes from the Ornis (a bird) and Gala (milk). The flowers are supposed to resemble the white excreta of birds when seen growing in stony places. It has been given therefore the name of Doves’ Dung (2 Kings 6:25). Some think that the baked bulbs of this plant were sold in the famine.

Tulipa is named after the Turkish word for Turban, which the flower is said to resemble. It is a genus of over one hundred species of bulbs. A special classification was made by Sir Daniel Hall in his book: The Genus Tulipa (1940).

Tulipa montana, which it is claimed is mentioned in the Bible, has solitary flowers opening nearly flat. They are crimson-scarlet with a small, black blotch. The stems are about five inches long, the bulb about 3/4-inch thick. This is a synonym of Tulipa ursoniana, a native, it is claimed, of Persia. Tulipa sharonensis, which also has a claim to OT reference, has a solitary wide bell as a flower, dark scarlet in color, with a dark olive blotch, narrowly margined yellow. The stem is six inches long, and the bulb one inch thick. This is undoubtedly a native of Pal., and prob. the only tulip that is.

The text referred to in Song of Solomon 2:1 “Rose of Sharon” may be read as Tulipa montana, but more likely as Tulipa sharonensis—note the similarity of the species name.

Linaceae: A family of nine genera and over 150 species, found all over the temperate and warm regions of the world. These are mostly trees and shrubs—several of which are very ornamental.

The only Biblical species is Linum usitatissimum, known as the Common Flax. This is an annual about eighteen inches high, with an erect stem. The flowers are of a beautiful blue color. Varieties have been chosen by man for their value as fiber in the making of linen, and incidentally for the oil content of the seeds, known as linseed oil.

It is agreed that from flax has come the oldest of fibers that makes very good linen. It presumably is the main vegetable material used for cloth in Bib. days. It was common enough for the flax to be blanched on the flat roofs of houses in Pal., as Rahab was doing when she was visited by the spies in Joshua’s days (Josh 2), about 1400 b.c. Evidently, three types of linen were made from Flax—a coarse linen (Ezek 9:2), a superior type of linen (Exod 39:27), and a very fine beautiful linen (1 Chron 15:27). The priests, of course, wore pure white linen garments. Mummies were wound in linen cloths by the Egyptians. In the NT times table napkins or serviettes (John 11:44), and the sails of ships on the Nile and in the Mediterranean were produced from linen.

Altogether, linen or flax appears in some fifty-three vv. in the Bible, and sometimes two or three times in one verse. It starts in Genesis 41:42 when Pharaoh clothed Joseph in fine linen. Linen was part of the priestly clothing (Exod 28; Lev 6:10). Samuel was clothed with a linen ephod when he performed his duty in the Temple (1 Sam 2:18), and so was David (1 Chron 15:27).

The good woman (Prov 31:13) worked with flax to make linen. Jeremiah in the parable was told to get a linen girdle (Jer 13:1), while the Lord Himself told of a man who was rich and wore fine linen. It ends with the armies in heaven that were clothed in fine linen (Rev 19:14).

Loranthaceae: A family of evergreen shrubs and herbs usually with berry-like fruits. There are twenty-one genera and over 700 species in the NT, but only one may be said to be in Holy Writ. Some suggest that the burning bush (Exod 3:4) was the crimson flowered plant—the strap flowered Acacia, Loranthus acaciae—Lorus meaning “strap” and anthos “flower.” This is a parasitic plant which is found growing on Acacias in Pal., and is crimson flowered. The claim is that the flame-like blossoms looked like fire to Moses when growing on a bush—a rather unlikely explanation, since Moses would prob. have been familiar with this plant.

Lythraceae: A family of twenty-one genera and fifty species, found everywhere except in the colder regions. They may be herbaceous perennials, shrubs or trees.

The only plant found in this genus in the OT is Lawsonia inermis, the henna plant—a shrub growing to a height of ten ft. bearing rosecolored flowers in panicles. There is a white variety and a species called miniata, which bears cinnabar-red flowers. The latter was not seen in Pal.

This plant is always cultivated in the E for the production of a dye. Even today, the leaves are imported into Europe for the making of cosmetics.

Actually, in the OT the word “henna” does not appear, but it seems obvious that the word “camphire” (Song of Solomon 1:14, and 4:13) is really henna.

Moraceae: A family of fifty-five genera and over 1000 species, most of them trees and shrubs, but including some plants whose stems contain milky juice, found in the tropics.

The only three plants in this natural order are Ficus carica, the common fig; Ficus sycomorus, known as the Sycamore fig, and Morus niger, the common or black mulberry. This can grow to a height of thirty ft. with fruit clusters one inch long, dark red, sub-acid and sweet. It is grown in some countries for the fruit, but in Great Britain for the beauty of the leaf and trunk. It is a tree indigenous to W Asia.

The Sycamore fig is said to be the sycamore of the Bible. The synonym is Sycomorus antiquorum. It is sometimes called the mulberry fig—it certainly is not what we today call the sycamore or buttonwood which is Platanus occidentalis. This sycamore fig is found in different texts (1 Kings 10:27; 1 Chron 27:28; Ps 78:47; Amos 7:14).

The Ficus carica is the ordinary fig mentioned again and again in the OT and NT. The Jewish nation is pictured as an olive tree. The fruit was considered part of the staple diet of the Israelites (Micah 4:4; Zech 3:10). Figs are mentioned some fifty-seven times altogether. Even at the beginning of time, Adam and Eve tried to make garments or girdles with fig leaves.

Myrtaceae: A natural order of some seventy genera and 2800 species, usually growing in sub-tropical and tropical areas. The shrubs or trees are invariably aromatic and evergreen. The flowers are usually showy.

Myrtis communis is the Common Myrtle—a densely-leaved shrub with downy shoots. It can grow fifteen ft. tall. The solitary flowers are small and white and scented when bruised. These are followed by a purple-black berry, half an inch long.

In Nehemiah 8:15, myrtle branches are referred to, as they are in Isaiah 41:19; 55:13, and Zechariah 1:8. This is quite a common tree in Pal. The leaves, flower petals, and the fruits are all used in perfumes. Myrtle is a symbol of peace and justice to the Jews.

Nymphaeaceae: This is the family of water plants. There are eight genera and over sixty species found almost everywhere in the world except the Arctic regions. The flowers of this family are as a rule striking and beautiful.

Nymphaea lotus is the only species mentioned in the Bible (Job 40:21, 22). It is the Egyp. lotus. The flowers, which open on four nights only, are large and scentless—the leaves are large and flat.

It is prob. this lily mentioned in 1 Kings 7:22, “upon the top of the pillars was lilywork,” or in 2 Chronicles 4:5 “its brim was made like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily.”

It is obvious that the children of Israel knew of water lilies which they would have seen in Egypt. It is known as “the bride of the Nile.”

Oleaceae: This natural order contains twenty-one genera and nearly 400 species, generally speaking in sub-tropical areas, or certainly in warm temperatures. Some genera include plants of economic value like the Fraxinus. Most others are ornamental. There is only one plant to be included, Olea europaea. This is the well-known olive, a round-headed, much branched tree often forty ft. high. The flowers are small and white, the berries are oval green or black, containing one long seed each.

The olive is mentioned again and again in Scripture, from Genesis 8:11, when the dove brought an olive leaf to the ark; to Paul’s parable in Romans 11:17-24.

Again the olive tree is used like the fig as a picture of the Jewish nation. It is the symbol of prosperity— the symbol of blessing, strength and beauty.

Kings were anointed with olive oil, even as they are today in Great Britain (1 Sam 10:1). Psalm 52:8, gives the picture of a happy man—“I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.” Hosea 14:6 gives the idea of beauty—“his beauty shall be as the olive tree.”

Even the sick can be healed by faith, prayer and anointing with oil (James 5:14).

Palmaceae: A big natural order of 150 genera and over 1100 species, found in the subtropics and tropics. The palms are of great importance economically, and it is said that all the wants of man are produced by members of this natural order, i.e. food, building materials, ropes, baskets, wax, oil, alcoholic drinks, betel nuts for dyeing, and so on.

The Phoenix dactylifera is the palm tree—the date palm, a well-known tree in Pal. in the olden days. Almost every part of the date palm is valuable, the fruit, the stones, the leaves, the trunk, the crown, the branches.

Tāmār, the Heb. name of the palm tree is often given to girls. Absalom’s sister, the beautiful girl, was called Tamar, because this stood for elegance and grace in the estimation of the Jews of her day.

The tree, which can grow some eighty ft. high, stands out often in the plain, esp. as at the apex of this straight up-and-down tree, there is a beautiful large cluster of deeply serrated and feathery leaves.

The custom in the E is to cut off the male inflorescence and hang it in the top of a female tree, to insure complete fertilization.

Pinaceae: A natural order of twenty-four genera and over 300 species, all of which are found in the temperate regions of the world. The family contains many trees of great economic importance, all of them conifers.

Pinus pinea is the Stone Pine or Umbrella Pine, a tree which will grow eighty ft. high, with a long, clean trunk. The cones are produced singly or two or three together, eggshaped, and four to six inches long. These take three years to mature. The seeds found in the cones are large, and contain an edible kernel. In South Africa these are called Donna Ball “pits.” The root system is not very extensive, and many trees are blown over.

Often called Apinus pinea, this tree is much grown in Pal. It is the “green fir tree” referred to in Hosea 14:8 (KJV). It was certainly found in Pal. at that time, so the experts agree.

There are Pinus brutia and Pinus halepensis to be reckoned with, or so some experts have suggested. Pinus halepensis is the Aleppo Pine or Jerusalem Pine, and Brutia is not a separate species, but is a variety of Halepensis. It is true that in the past it was thought a separate species, and so the Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary has as the synonym for Pinus halepensis brutia—Pinus brutia or Pinus pyrenaica. The variety brutia has a branch system less dense than halepensis, and the cones on the branches point forward. This pine will withstand long periods of drought, and is an excellent tree for places which are too dry for most conifers. The true Pinus halepensis may grow to a height of sixty ft. and the young shoots are gray with a glaucous bloom to them. The cones are short-stalked and point backward on the branches.

Once again the writer searches for the true meaning of such passages as Isaiah 41:19 and Isaiah 60:13, where the pine tree is mentioned, 1 Kings 5:8 and 2 Chronicles 2:8, where fir trees are featured. Both could well be Pinus halepensis and/or its variety brutia.

Cedrus libani is the Cedar of Lebanon, growing up to 100 ft. high. The cones are barrelshaped, four inches by 2 1/2 inches wide. They are beautiful trees and the timber is first-class. The synonym is Cedrus patula.


Tetraclinis articulata comes from the Lat. tetra, “form,” and cline, “bed.” It is a tender, evergreen tree, which seldom grows taller than thirty ft., with erect, feathered branches divided into a fine spray. It bears solitary cones at the ends of the shoots. Its synonyms are Callitris quadrivalvis and Thuja articulata. The wood is yellow or red, quite fragrant, and is often marked prettily. It is used in making furniture for this reason. From its trunk exudes a hard resin called sandarac, which is made into varnish.

This is the thyine wood mentioned in Revelation 18:12, i.e. the Sandarac Tree, sometimes known as the citrum tree or even citrus tree, though it has nothing to do with oranges and lemons.

Cupressus sempervirens comes from the Lat. kus, “to produce” and parisos, “equal.” This indicates that the species grows symmetrically. It is an evergreen tree now used for ornamental purposes when young. The tree grows like a pyramid but when old it spreads. It is interesting to note that the juvenile leaves and the older ones are quite dissimilar.

C. sempervirens is the Mediterranean Cypress. There are two main forms, one very erect, 150 ft. high, and the other spreading. The cones are 1 1/4 inches long and one inch wide, as a rule. The wood is useful for furniture—it is quite fragrant. An oil may be distilled from the leaves and shoots.

This is the tree in all probability from which planks were cut to make the ark; gopher wood is mentioned in Genesis 6:14. Isaiah 60:13 talks about the cypress tree. Noah’s example, incidentally, was followed by Alexander the Great, who also built his ship from the cypress wood. Moffatt seems to think that the Almug tree is the Cypress (2 Chron. 2:8).

Juniperus is a genus containing almost fifty species of hardy or half-hardy shrubs and trees, nearly all of them growing in the northern hemisphere. The one species which is found in the southern hemisphere is the Sharp Cedar, Juniperus oxycedrus. This is a tree which grows up to thirty ft. high, with prominently-angled branches, and bearing globose half-inch wide cones, reddish-brown when ripe. An essential oil, which is said to have medicinal properties, is distilled from the fragrant wood of this tree. It is known as Oil of Cade. If this tree is to be included, then it is because of the word עַרְעָ֣ר, tr. heath (Jer 17:6). ’Ar’ar is, the writer understands, the name given by the Arabs to this particular Juniper. It is therefore likely that the words of Jeremiah 17:6 could be “He shall be like the Sharp Cedar in the desert.” There is a similar reference (48:6), though the Heb. word here appears to be ’ărô'ēr.

Juniperus sabina is known as the Savin. It is a shrub which may grow to fifteen ft. in height, and the branches are divided into fine sprays. A strong odor is released when a shoot is bruised; this comes from what is known as an oil gland. This oil, which can be distilled, is said to have diuretic properties. The cones look waxy-white. J. sabina is said to grow well in Pal.

Platanaceae: This natural order contains only one genus, Platanus orientalis. There are six or so species which bear unisexual flowers—the sexes apart. The fruits are one-seeded nutlets, packed into round balls. This Platanus orientalis is known as the Oriental Plane, and grows to a height of 100 ft. The fruit balls it bears may be anything from two to six on a pendulous stalk. The tree is extremely longlived.

This plane tree is well-known in Pal., growing chiefly in the valleys and plains. The Heb. word ’armôn tr. “chestnut tree” (Gen 30:37), and “chestnut trees” (Ezek 31:8), is prob. this plane tree, because the literal tr. of the Heb. word is “naked.” Even in London, where these trees are grown abundantly, large pieces of bark are constantly peeling off, leaving the trunk underneath looking white, i.e. naked.

Punicaceae: There is only one genus which contains two species, all of which are deciduous small trees or shrubs. The most popular species is Punica granatum, the pomegranate, which is a very popular fruit in Pal., where it ripens well. The writer has seen it growing to a height of thirty ft., bearing beautiful scarlet flowers 1 1/4 inches across, followed by yellow and crimson fruits, which may be as wide as 3 1/2 inches. The tr. pomegranate is undoubtedly correct. It is mentioned again and again in the OT. The beautiful little colored pomegranates decorated the hem of the robe of the high priest (Exod 39:26). The Israelites took a poor view of the fact that there were no pomegranates growing in the Wilderness (Num 20:5). Saul lived under a pomegranate tree (1 Sam 14:2). Pomegranates were carved to beautify the Temple (1 Kings 7:18). The beauty of the pomegranate is shown in Song of Solomon 4:13 and the death of the pomegranate in Joel 1:12. Pomegranates were certainly promised by God to His people (Deut 8:8), and were regarded as a definite blessing. They are certainly very sweet and delicious to eat on a hot day in Pal., esp. when picked straight from the tree.

Ranunculaceae: This is a very large family containing forty-eight genera with something like 1300 species. They can be shrubs or herbs, and nearly all of them have acrid sap, some of which can cause blisters when handled.

The Anemone coronaria is found in this natural order. It grows today very popular cut flowers—red, blue, violet or yellow. It undoubtedly grew wild in Pal. in our Lord’s time, and esp. on the Mount of Olives, and was therefore most prob. the lilies to which he referred as being more beautiful than “Solomon in all his glory” (Luke 12:27).

The second plant in this large order is Nigella sativa, about which the Royal Horticultural Society says: “said to be the Fitches mentioned in Isaiah 28:25, 27. The seeds are often sprinkled on cakes in Palestine.”

This Nigella is commonly called the Nutmeg flower and must not be confused with the annual plants called Devil-in-the-Bush, or Love-in-the-Mist. It was cultivated for its aromatic seeds, which even today are used in the E for flavoring curries.

Rhamnaceae: Here we have a natural order of forty genera and 500 species. The great majority of them are found in the tropics. This natural order is closely related to the Vitaceae family.

Paliurus spina-christi in this natural order is a shrub growing to a height of ten ft. as a rule. It bears greenish-yellow flowers and interesting fruits which are one inch wide and look like a wide-brimmed hat. Paliurus bergatus is a synonym of P. spina-christi. This shrub will grow in any ordinary soil and loves full sunshine. The Royal Horticultural Society dictionary says that it is one of the legendary trees from which the crown of thorns was made (Matt 27:29; John 19:2).

Zizyphus is a genus of approximately forty species of evergreen or deciduous shrubs and trees, living in the warm, temperate or tropical regions. The flowers are invariably small and greenish or yellow. The two species which may be mentioned in the OT are Z. lotus, a deciduous small tree with tiny flowers and ovoidroundish yellow fruits. Z. spina christi is an evergreen with ovate, oval leaves and minute woolly flowers in short clusters. The fruit in this case is black, half an inch wide, and when ripe is edible. Z. lotus is prob. the shady tree mentioned (Job 40:21, 22, although Moffatt in his tr. uses the words “lotus trees”). These are certainly found in Pal. and Syria. In the case of Z. spina christi, there is reason to suppose that this shrub with its thorny branches could be the thorns indicated in Judges 8:7; Isaiah 9:18; and perhaps also Matthew 7:16. This thorny shrub undoubtedly grows happily throughout Pal., and could therefore be the plant referred to in the passages mentioned.

The thorns mentioned in Genesis 3:18; Psalm 58:9; Proverbs 15:19; Isaiah 10:17 and Hosea 2:6, to give but a few examples, may well be those of the buckthorn, and there is a Palestinian species, Rhamnus palaestina, often called Rhamnus punctata, var. palaestina, which grows to a height of five or six ft. and has evergreen leaves and extremely thorny branches.

Rosaceae: A family of some ninety genera and 2000 species, which are found all over the world. The Prunus amygdalus communis, often quoted as being mentioned in the OT is really Prunus communis, the almond, a tree which will grow in the E to a height of twenty ft., and produces two-inch long velvety fruits, containing smooth stones in which are the almonds. Almond trees are mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:5 and Jeremiah 1:11, and the Heb. word shāqēd is also tr. “almond” in Genesis 43:11 and Numbers 17:8.

Some claim that Prunus armeniaca must be included under this natural order. This is the apricot, a tree that will grow thirty ft. high, and produces white or pinkish flowers, followed by delicious yellow fruits, tinged with red. It has a synonym, Armeniaca vulgaris. The only reason that this has any right to be included is that there are those who claim that the tree in Genesis 3:6 was an apricot. (See Apple.)

Rosa phoenicia is a strong climbing rose with hooked prickles and white flowers, two inches across. It came to Great Britain from Syria in 1885, and the Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary thinks that it may have been one of the parents of the Damask Rose. This species of rose should be included, because of two possible references in the Apoc. (2 Esd 2:19; Wisd Sol 2:8).

Rubus is a genus of some 400 species, and contains all the members of the bramble family— raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and so on. The Rubus sanctus is usually called the Palestinian Bramble, and is closely related to Rubus ulmifolius, a semi-evergreen, spreading shrub, with downy, purply stems, covered with broad spines. The flowers are rosy-red, but the fruits are of no value for food. These, it is thought, may be the thorns and briars found in Judges 8:7; Isaiah 7:25; 9:18.

Writers of the 1800s have used the term Rubus fruticosus, which was a comprehensive Linnaean term for brambles. Today, however, this so-called species has been split up into many other species and even varieties.

Ruscaceae: Sanders Encyclopaedia (1955) states that Ruscus aculeatus is in the natural order Ruscaceae or Liliaceae. Ruscus itself is a genus of four evergreen sub-shrubs with creeping root stocks. The species thrive in shady places. R. aculeatus is the Butcher’s Broom, which is found all round the Mediterranean region, and is really lovely when covered with red berries. Unfortunately, there seem to be more male forms than female, and so the brilliant, berried types are seldom seen. It is the Heb. word sillôn tr. “brier” or “pricking briar,” which gives an indication, for some claim this Heb. name to be similar to sullaon, the name the Arabs give to the extremely prickly stiff Butcher’s Broom, this being of course Ruscus aculeatus, which is well-known in Palestine, and can be seen around Mount Carmel. The problem is that the Heb. word in Ezekiel 2:6 is sārābîm, and there is reason to believe, therefore, that it may have been Ruscus hyrcanus, which is closely related to R. aculeatus.

Rutaceae: This is a family of 100 genera and 900 species, most of which are found in South Africa and Australia. They are usually shrubs or trees, and several of them are useful because they yield oil.

Ruta chalepensis, synonym R. angustifolia, is a sub-shrub, growing to 2 1/2 ft., bearing yellow half-inch wide flowers. It is well-known in the Mediterranean regions.

Ruta graveolens is called the Herb of Grace, commonly known as Rue, and is an acrid evergreen shrub, semi-woody, growing to a height of three ft. with erect shoots. The flowers are 3/4 inch wide, and of a rather dull yellow color. The leaves have a very strong odor, and in Great Britain are often used in claret cup.

Ruta chalepensis is included, because it is said to be a common plant in Pal., but Ruta graveolens seems to the writer to have precedence, because it is the herbal rue used even today, and it is herbs to which our Lord refers (Luke 11:42). R. chalepensis is included to give this species the benefit of the doubt.

Salicaceae: This is a family of two genera only, but with 330 species, all of which are shrubs and trees. The flowers are catkinlike, and generally appear before the leaves. The poplars produce catkins that hang, and the willows catkins that hold themselves upright.

Salix alba is the white willow with pendulous branches of beautiful shape. The young shoots are silky and the catkins often two inches long.

The weeping willow is, of course, Salix babylonica, which may grow fifty ft. high, with its branches hanging down, and looking extremely beautiful in the winter as well as in the summer (see Ps 137).

The willows of Leviticus 23:40 some have claimed as the Balsam poplar, Populus tacamahaca, but this seems to be a North American tree and not one known in Pal.

In the case of the willows mentioned in Job 40:22; Isaiah 15:7 and 44:4, there is every chance that the tree is Salix safsaf, which is a common Palestinian willow, and, in fact, the name used today by the peasants for this tree is safsaf. It is a tree with reddish-brown branches, which loves to grow by water and is happy growing in the upper parts of the Jordan for this reason.

Salix acmophylla is another species which likes to grow near water, and is found in Pal. It was once thought to be a variety of safsaf. The branches are reddish, and the catkins erect, oblong and cylindrical.

If, however, the willows mentioned in Leviticus 23:40; Psalm 137:2, are Populus euphratica, as Moffatt and Goodspeed suggest, then it is a tree which also grows on the banks of the Jordan, and which some feel is the mulberry (2 Sam 5:23 KJV).

Populus alba is considered by some to be the green poplar that Jacob took (Gen 30:37), because the leaves are green above and snowywhite beneath, and the shoots would therefore suit this schemer well. This poplar is also mentioned in Hosea 4:13. It is a species that likes to grow in wet places.

Solanaceae: A natural order of seventy genera and 1800 species, rarely trees. Large numbers of the family are of importance economically—for instance, the potato, the tomato, the capsicum, the aubergine, and even tobacco. Two Biblical plants are to be included in this natural order.

Lycium europaeum is the Boxthorn, and within the genus there are a hundred species of shrubs, usually thorny. Most of them bear bright red fruits profusely. It is thought that L. europaeum occurs in Scripture, whose synonym is L. mediterraneum. This is a rambling, spiny shrub, bearing globose fruits, and is found in the Mediterranean region. Is this the bramble mentioned in Judges 9:14, even though allegorical?

The Mandragora officinarum is the Mandrake or Devil’s Apples. There are three species of perennials within this genus, no one of them very beautiful. All of them, however, seem to have legends attached to them. The Royal Horticultural Society’s dictionary states that Mandragora officinarum is the Mandrake of Genesis 30. It may also well be the Mandrake of Song of Solomon 7:13. It is claimed to be the original loveapple.

Amid the arguments about the true tr. of the word shāmîr (Isa 10:17; 55:13; Mic 7:4; Heb. 6:8), most agree that the plant is prob. Solanum incanum, the Palestinian nightshade, sometimes called the Jericho Potato. This is found on roadsides and in waste places in the Lower Jordan Valley and around Jericho, and is extremely prickly. The fertile flowers produce yellow berries.

Styracaceae: This natural order contains six genera and about eighty species of trees and shrubs. Most of these are found in Mexico, Texas, Java or Japan, but Styrax officinalis is definitely popular in the Mediterranean region. This is a small tree or shrub which can grow to a height of twenty ft. bearing pendulous clusters of fragrant white flowers. The stems yield a fragrant resin when punctured, known as Storax.

It has been claimed that the sweet spice called Onycha (Exod 30:34) is the Styrax benzoin which grows wild in Sumatra, and produces a resin called benzoin with which Friar’s Balsam is made. The writer doubts that there would have been an export from Sumatra to Pal. in Biblical days. There is no difficulty, however, about Styrax officinalis, because this is known to have grown in Asia Minor, and could therefore easily be the Sweet Storax found in Ecclesiasticus 24:15. Here is a tree which even today is easy to find in Pal. in the lower hills.

Tamaricaceae: This natural order comprises four genera and 100 species of small trees or shrubs, usually heath-like, often found by the seaside or in desert places.

Tamarix aphylla is one of the species that may be mentioned in the OT, its synonym being T. articulata. It is a small tree or bush, some twenty ft. high, bearing pink flowers one-eighth of an inch across. It was called at one time Tamarix orientalis.

Tamarix tetrandra is a glaborous shrub, growing twelve to fifteen ft. high, with tiny pink flowers packed into cylindrical spikes, usually two inches long. Possibly the shrub underneath which Hagar cast the child (Gen 21:15) could be the Tamarix aphylla, because bushes of this species now grow in the desert where it is thought Hagar wandered with her child. The Tamarisks certainly grow in sandy soil. The shrub is unlikely to have been the species tetrandra, though this may be found in Western Asia.

Typhaceae: A natural order of one genus and possibly fifteen species, all of them being marsh plants. The flowers are closely crowded with the male blooms above and the female blooms below.

The Biblical plant is the Small Reed Mace, Typha angustata, which grows four ft. high, producing dark green leaves half an inch or so wide, convex beneath and channeled above toward their base. The flower spikes are brown.

The reed mace is sometimes called Cattail from the “Olde English”—“Cattes Tayles.”

If the plant were the true Cattail, it would be Typha latifolia, growing eight ft. high. This, it is claimed, is the reed with which our Lord was smitten (Mark 15:19) and the reed put into our Lord’s hand as an imitation scepter in Matthew 27:29. Whether, however, Typha latifolia grew in the Holy Land at that time, the writer has been unable to discover.

Umbelliferae: This natural order has approximately 180 genera and 1400 species. Most of these grow in the northern temperate regions, but some are distributed in the Middle E. The flowers are invariably produced in compound umbels, hence the name of the natural order.

In this natural order the first is Peucedanum graveolens, an annual with yellow flowers in a large umbel. It was originally called Anethum graveolens, and is found under this name in some books. This is undoubtedly the anise mentioned in Matthew 23:23, but its proper name is dill. This plant is grown for its seeds which are used in a similar way to caraway seeds. Dill water given to babies comes from the distillation of this seed. The Douay Bible uses the word anise, but Goodspeed, Moffatt and Weymouth tr. the Gr. word anēthon as dill. Crudens Concordance includes the word dill in the reference to this plant.

Coriandrum sativum is an annual which grows about eighteen inches high. The name comes from the word “coris”—a bug. This alludes to the unpleasant odor of the leaves. The flowers are pale mauve or white and the fruits globose. The seeds are used in flavoring sweets or candy, in bread, mixed spices, some curry powders, and alcoholic drinks like gin. The seeds smell unpleasant when unripe, but the odor disappears when they are dried. The seed is mentioned in Exodus 16:31 and Numbers 11:7, merely because manna was likened to it. The plant, however, was and is grown in Pal.

Cuminum cyminum is a half hardy annual herb with aromatic fruits that are used in flavoring. It produces a pink or white flower, grows six inches high, and is known to have been popular in the Mediterranean region. To the uninitiated, it is a member of the “carrot family,” and the seeds are larger than those of the caraway. They were and are still used in Pal. as a spice or flavoring. Sowing the seeds is mentioned in Isaiah 28:25, and the tithing of the seeds in Matthew 23:23.

Though Ferula is a genus of about eighty species of herbaceous perennials, only one appears to be mentioned in Scripture, Ferula galbaniflua. This bears yellow flowers on short, thick stalks, and the little fruits that follow are oblong and elliptic. The special gum, galbanum, exudes from the lower part of the stem, as well as from the bases of the leaf stalks. The name “galbanum” is found in Exodus 30:34, and in Ecclesiasticus 24:15.

Commercially, an incision is made in the young stem three inches above ground level, and as a result, a milky juice appears which in a short time hardens and becomes the galbanum used commercially as an anti-spasmodic in medicine, as well as for certain varnishes. It is not known for certain whether this plant grew in Pal., or whether the galbanum was imported from Persia.

Urticaceae: This is a natural order of over forty genera, containing 500 species, the great majority of them tropical shrubs, trees and herbs. The word “urtica” comes from the Lat. “uro,” “to burn” because the plants are largely stinging nettles. The perennial nettle is Urtica dioica, and the dwarf annual nettle is Urtica urens. Urtica coudata is found in waste places in Pal., having erect branching stems. It bears small, greenish flowers. As these three nettles are found in Pal., it is wondered whether they are those referred to in Isaiah 34:13 and Hosea 9:6, and certainly Goodspeed and Moffatt think of them as species of nettles. The writer agrees. The species Urtica pilulifera is also found on waste ground round about Jericho and Jerusalem, where it is commonly known as the Roman Nettle. This would therefore be included also.

Valerianaceae: In this natural order, there are eight genera and 350 species. The flowers are usually numerous but small, and they are often showy. The only Biblical plant that seems to fall into this natural order is the Nardostachys which gets its name from nardos (a fragrant shrub), and stachys (a spike). This is a genus of two species and the spikenard mentioned in Song of Solomon 1:12; 4:13; Mark 14:3 and John 12:3, and is the ancient spikenard known to man for generations.

This Nardostachys jatamansi bears rose purple flowers in a small terminal panacle. The plant was not grown in Pal., but was imported in sealed alabaster boxes as a delicious perfume. It is found growing in the cold, dry upper areas of the Himalayan mountains, and was given the name Jatamansee—spelled in this way by the Hindus in their country. It is the roots and woolly, young stems that are carefully dried and made into an ointment or perfume.

Vitaceae: A natural order of eleven genera and 450 species of shrubs, most of which are climbers. These are widely distributed in the sub-tropical and tropical regions. The flowers are small and regular, but sometimes uni-sexual. The fruit is a berry.

If the unprofitable vines mentioned in the Bible are the ornamental types, then Ampelopsis orientalis is prob. the one referred to, since this grows in Pal. and Syria, bearing tiny, red fruits resembling red currants. Its synonym is Vitis orientalis, because it was thought at one time to be a member of the Vine genus.


Zygophyllaceae: A family of twenty-six genera and 250 species, all of which grow in the warmer regions. Rarely are they annuals, occasionally are they herbs, but usually they are sub-shrubs or shrubs. Generally speaking, the flowers are solitary, though occasionally there are two together. The fruit is generally a capsule, hardly ever a drupe or berry.

Balanites aegyptiaca has hermaphroditic, green flowers. The leaves are woolly, and the plants as a whole are found in desert places, esp. between Jerusalem and Jericho. It has been thought that the balm in Genesis 37:25; Jeremiah 8:22 and 51:8, refers to the resin or gum, Balanites aegyptiaca. This is commonly known as the Jericho Balsam, because it grows abundantly in the desert areas around Jericho, often twelve to fifteen ft. tall. The fruits of this shrub are boiled for the sake of the oil content, which is said to possess healing properties, hence the text: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jer 8:22). The Douay Bible makes the tr.: “Is there no rosin in Gilead?” and for this reason, soon after it was published, the edition was known as the Rosin Bible.