The flora of the Bible has been the subject of much discussion and research. Accurately identifying many of these plants has taken many years of scientific research. The Bible writers were not botanists, and they seldom bothered to describe or identify the plants they mentioned.
In the 16th century Levinus Lemmens wrote the first book on the plants of Scripture. It was not until the middle of the 18th century, however, that a botanist traveled to Palestine for firsthand knowledge of its vegetation. Since then much valuable information has been learned about the plants of the Bible.
Many of the Bible writers often used general terms to refer to plants. Sometimes a reference is no more specific than "tree", "grass", or "grain". Even if an individual grain such as "corn" or "wheat" is named, it is referring to all grains in general.
Although many types of flowers grow in Palestine and other Bible lands, very few are mentioned by name in the Bible. Some of the flowers found in the Holy Land are irises, roses, anemones, lilies, tulips, hyacinths, and narcissus.
Some of the other general terms referring to plant life include bush, herb, grass, cockle, fruit, and verdure.
The Hebrew people were certain that GOD provided the Promised Land for their use, but they were not careful to take good care of it. The land was cultivated continuously for thousands of years without rest until much of the soil was depleted and many areas became devastated wastelands. The great forests of Lebanon and Hermon were eventually destroyed and the soil was eroded. The people of that time did not know how to manage their environment intelligently. Eventually the land that once flowed with "milk and honey" became barren of much of its vegetation. Today many of these barren regions of the Holy Land are being turned again into fertile farmland. Effort is being made to restore the richness of the land as GOD intended it to be.
The following specific plants are mentioned in the Bible. This listing is keyed to the NKJV, but variant names from five additional popular translations - KJV, NASB, NEB, NIV, and RSV - are cross-referenced throughout the listing.
Acacia: A large thorny tree with rough gnarled bark. The orange-brown wood was hard-grained, and it repelled insects. It bore long locust-like pods with seeds inside and produced round, fragrant clusters of yellow blossoms. Many species of acacia grew in the desert of Sinai, in southern Palestine, and in Egypt.
Acacia wood was used to build the ark of the covenant and the first tabernacle (Exod. 36:20; 37:1). The acacia is called shittim and shittah in the KJV (Exod. 25:5,10; Is. 41:19).
Algum, Almug: A large leguminous tree native to India and Ceylon. While its identity is uncertain, many consider it to be the red sandlewood. Its blossoms were pea-like, and its wood was close grained, dark outside, and red within. It was highly scented, making it resistant to insects. Most authorities believe that algum and almug are two forms of the same wood.
Solomon ordered the algum wood from Ophir and Lebanon (I Ki. 10:11,12; II Chron. 9:10,11). The wood was well suited for making musical instruments, cabinet work, and pillars for the Temple.
Almond: A large tree resembling the peach tree in both size and fruit. The almond was chiefly valued for the nuts it produced, which were used for making oil used in the home and as medicine. The Hebrew word for almond means "awakening", an allusion to the almond blossom, which is first to bloom in the spring. The almond's pinkish-white blossoms always appear before its leaves.
The almond played an important role in the history of the Hebrews. Jacob included almond nuts in his gifts to Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 43:11). The decorations on the lampstands were modeled after the almond blossom (Exod. 25:33), and Aaron's rod was an almond twig (Num. 17:8). The almond also symbolized the dependability of GOD (Jer. 1:11-12). Many scholars think the hazel of Genesis 30:37 (KJV) is the almond tree.
Almug: See Algum.
Amaranth: A large family of plants that includes weeds and garden plants. Goodspeed translates the amaranth, also called the "rolling thing", of Isaiah 7:13 as the tumbleweed. It is also called the "resurrection plant" and the "rose of Jericho". The Greek word for amaranth means "unfading". This describes the bloom's ability to retain its color when dried. This meaning is used symbolically in I Peter 1:4 and 5:4, where the inheritance of the faithful is described as unfading. Thus, the amaranth became a symbol of immortality.
Anise: An annual herb which bears yellow flowers and fragrant seeds. The anise mentioned in the bible is generally thought to be dill. Anise (dill) was used as medicine and for cooking. It grows in Palestine today both cultivated and wild.
Jesus used the anise as an illustration when He scolded the Pharisees for keeping part of the law in detail while ignoring the rest (Matt. 23:23; also Deut. 14:22).
Apple: A tree that grows about 9 meters (30 feet) high and has rough bark and pink blossoms. Many authorities believe the apple of Scripture actually is the apricot, a native of Armenia. Other authorities suggest the quince, peach, citron, orange, or some other fruit; some believe it was the apple.
The apple was described as sweet and fragrant (Song 7:8; apricot, NEB), golden (Prov. 25:11), and suitable for shade (Song 2:3). This fruit was used figuratively to show how precious we are to GOD, and how extremely sensitive He is to our needs (Deut. 32:10; Ps. 17:8; Lam. 2:18; Zech. 2:8).
Apricot: (see Apple).
Ash: (see Pine).
Aspen: (see Mulberry).
Asphodel: (see Rose).
Balsam: A thorny tree growing 3 to 5 meters (10-15 feet) tall with clusters of green flowers, also known as the Jericho balsam. Some think the lentils or mastic tree, a shrubby evergreen growing one to three meters (3-10 feet) tall, is meant.
Balsam was highly valued during Bible times (Gen. 37:25; 43:11; Jer. 8:22; 46:11; 51:8; Ezek. 27:17). It produced a fragrant, resinous gum called balm. This was an article of export (Gen. 37:25) and was given as a gift by Jacob (Gen. 43:11). Balm was used as a symbol in Jeremiah 8:22 to refer to spiritual healing.
Barley: A grain known since early times. It was well adapted to varied climates, ripening quickly and resistant to heat; it usually was harvested before wheat. Because barley was considered a food for slaves and the very poor, however, it was held in low esteem as a grain.
In the Bible barley was first associated with Egypt (Exod. 9:31). It was used as an offering of jealousy (Num. 5:15) for fodder (I Ki. 4:28), and for food (Judg. 7:13; John 6:5,13).
Bay Tree: The laurel, a tree native to Canaan. The laurel grew to heights of 12 to 18 meters (40-60 feet) and produced small greenish-white flowers and black berries. Parts of the tree were used in medicine, while its leaves were used as seasoning. The Hebrew word means "a tree in its native soil"; this was a fitting way for David to describe the natural prosperity of the wicked (Ps. 37:55, KJV; native green tree, NKJV).
Beans: A hardy plant about one meter (three feet) tall with pea-shaped fragrant blooms, large pods, and black or brown beans, which were eaten alone or cooked with meat. Beans have always been an important part of the Hebrew diet, especially among the poor, and they have been known since ancient times. When beans were threshed and cleaned, they were often mixed with grains for bread (Ezek. 4:9).
Bitter Weed: (see Wormwood).
Box Tree: A tree of very hard wood and glossy leaves, which grew to a height of about 6 meters (20 feet). A native of northern Palestine and the Lebanon mountains, the box tree was well suited to beautify the Temple (Is. 60:13). The box tree was used since Roman times for wood engravings and musical instruments. Isaiah symbolically used the box tree, along with other trees, to remind the Hebrews of GOD's perpetual presence (Is. 41:17-20).
Some scholars have suggested that the box tree of Scripture may instead be the cypress or plane. Also see Chestnut.
Bramble: (see Thistles/Thorns).
Brier: (see Thistles/Thorns).
Broom: A dense, twiggy bush, almost leafless, which grew to about 3.6 meters (12 feet). It has small white blooms. Common in the desert regions of Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt, it was used as charcoal (Ps. 120:4) and provided shade for the prophet Elijah (I Ki. 19:4,5). The roots which Job ate were not from the broom, which was not edible, but may have been an edible parasite which infested the bush (Job 30:4). The broom is sometimes referred to as juniper in the NKJV, KJV, and NASB. Many scholars believe this to be the shrub or heath referred to in Jeremiah 17:6 and 48:6.
Bud: (see Gourd).
Bulrush: (see Reed/Rush).
Calamus: A fragrant, reed-like grass growing along streams and river banks (Song. 4:14), also referred to as sweet cane (Is. 43:24; Jer. 6:20). Calamus leaves are fragrant and ginger-flavored when crushed. It is named with other aromatic substances (Ezek. 27:19) and as one ingredient for the anointing oil (Exod. 30:23). It is believed to be a plant native to India (Jer. 6:20). Also see Reed/Rush.
Camel-thorn: (see Cypress).
Camphire: (see Henna).
Caperberry: A plant with large white, berry-producing flowers, which grows in clefts of rocks and on walls. Only the NEB and NASB refer to the caper. Other versions translate the Hebrew word as "desire" (Eccl. 12:5). Also see Hyssop.
Caraway: (see Cummin).
Cassia: A plant with a flavor and armoa similar to cinnamon, but considered inferior. Some believe it could be the Indian perfume, orris. Moses included cassia in the anointing oil (Exod. 30:24). It was also an article of trade (Ezek. 27:19).
Cedar: An evergreen tree which sometimes grows more than 30 meters (100 feet) tall with a trunk circumference of 12 to 15 meters (40-50 feet). It grows in western Asia, the Himalayas, and Cyprus as well as Lebanon.
The cedar's fragrant wood was rot-resistant and knot-free, making it ideal for building purposes (II Sam. 5:11; I Ki. 6:9), ship building (Ezek. 27:5), and fashioning idols (Is. 44:14). The reference to cedar in Leviticus 14:4 and Numbers 19:6 is generally understood to be the juniper which grew in the Sinai. Also see Fir; Pine.
Chestnut: A tree of Syria and Lebanon thought by many scholars to be the plane tree. It grew to a height of about 21 to 27 meters (70-90 feet) and had a massive trunk. This tree is translated chestnut in the NKJV and KJV, but is translated plane by the RSV, NIV, NEB, and NASB.
Cinnamon: A member of the laurel family, the cinnamon tree grew to be more than 9 meters (30 feet) tall with white flowers and wide-spreading branches. A native of Ceylon, the cinnamon tree produced bark and oil which was used for the anointing oil (Exod. 30:23) and as perfume (Prov. 7:17; Rev. 18:13).
Citron: A fragrant wood from the sandarac tree. Citron is sometimes referred to as "sweet" or "scented" wood. The sandarac tree grew to a height of no more than about 9 meters(30 feet) tall. Citron is translated as thyine by the KJV (Rev. 18:12).
Coriander: An annual herb, growing from one-half to one meter (two to three feet) tall, which produced grayish seeds used to flavor foods, for confections, and in medicine. The dried leaves of coriander (cilantro) were also used to flavor foods.
Corn: (see Wheat).
Cummin: An annual seed-producing herb with pinkish-white blooms. Cummin is native to the eastern Mediterranean lands. When harvested, cummin was threshed with sticks (Is. 28:25,27), a method still used today. Cummin was used to flavor foods, in medicine, and was subject to the tithe (Matt. 23:23).
The NKJV also mentions black cummin, which is translated dill (RSV, NEB, NASB), caraway (NIV), and fitches (KJV).
Cypress: A tall evergreen tree of hard and durable wood. Cypress wood was suitable for building, and was used to fashion idols (Is. 44:14). The word rendered gopherwood by the NKJV, KJV, RSV, and NASB in Genesis 6:14 is thought to be cypress. This was the wood which Noah used to build his ark. The word for cypress is also rendered as camelthorn (Is. 55:13) and ilex (Is. 44:14) by the NEB.
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