Plants of the Bible
Missouri Botanical Garden highlights 40 of the many plants mentioned in the Bible in the Shoenberg Temperate House. Most of these plants are displayed in one area, but others are scattered about the conservatory. There are 20 story signs in place to identify the plants and the corresponding Bible passages.
"And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth grass, and herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth': and it was so." (Genesis 1:11)
The coastal plains, deserts, plateaus and river valleys of the biblical Holy Land support a variety of plant life, of which approximately 110 species are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments of one of the world's oldest written records of human history.
Originating in what many historians consider to be the cradle of civilization, the stories of the Bible were passed down by singers and story tellers before being transcribed into Hebrew and Aramaic. The prayers, poems, proverbs and sermons make mention of many plants familiar today, both wild and cultivated.
Branches from the olive tree have long been symbols of peace and hope. "And the dove came in to him in the morning; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off. (Genesis 8:11). The tree provides abundant fruit, from which oil is made for holy ointments for kings and priests, for anointing the sick and for cooking.
The Mediterranean redbud (Cercis siliquastrum) is long thought to have been the tree from which Judas hanged himself. "And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5). Its pink flowers blossom in March, and are larger than those of the redbud growing in North America (Cercis canadensis). Some argue that it was the fig from which Judas hanged himself.
The fruit of the pomegranate (Punica granatum) has long symbolized passion and love, as in this biblical reference, "Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves. (Song 7:12).
Beginning with the Greeks, centuries of translations and interpretations of biblical text has obscured more than a few references. Often, when a translator encountered an unfamiliar plant name, he or she assigned it a familiar name, but not necessarily that of a plant growing in Egypt or Israel. This has led to much confusion, and researchers going back to original Hebrew face the task of deciphering names long forgotten or obscured, such as this supposed reference to capers (Capparis spinosa) as desire, "The almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets." (Ecclesiastes 12:5).
Not all biblical plants will grow in the St. Louis area, but many can be grown. Among them are iris, coriander, cumin, bay, dill, mint, rue, muskmelon, garlic, leek, lettuce, onion, watermelon, fig, grapes and sorghum.
Visit the Missouri Botanical Garden to see Plants of the Bible at the Shoenberg Temperate House. This conservatory also features species from warm, dry regions such as California and the Mediterranean, as well as carnivorus plants, and a Moorish garden.