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Flowers of the Bible
Nature Bulletin No. 713   April 13, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

FLOWERS OF THE BIBLE
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets" (Matthew 5:17). Reverently and humbly I venture to explain some of the myths and misconceptions that have accumulated about the flowers mentioned in the Bible. It is a remarkable fact that, other than the blossoms on flowering shrubs and trees such as the almond, there are only three: the lily, the rose, and the camphire.

Curiously, too, all three are mentioned in the Song of Solomon: "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys . Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, spikenard and saffron. The spikenard referred to is a Himalayan plant from whose roots was and is extracted a precious ointment and perfume. It is nothing like our American spikenard, a common woodland plant. Saffron, used in curry and as a yellow dye, is the product of several species of crocuses native in Greece and Asia Minor.

I say it is remarkable that only three flowers are mentioned because, as we observed in Bulletin No. 188 (Plants of the Bible) and No. 676 (Trees of the Bible), 3000 years ago Palestine had a different climate and was a land of palm trees where wildflowers were profuse in spring. It is remarkable if you also consider that long sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt on the fertile delta of the Nile. It is remarkable if you study the New Testament.

Jesus was a teacher who knew the common people and knew the common plants. HE spoke in graphic homely parables that people could understand: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." But, although HE spoke of the vine, the orchard, and the garden, HE mentioned no other flower.

The camphire or henna-plant is a shrub which, escaped from cultivation, grows wild in many parts of the Orient. It bears clusters of small, white or yellow, powerfully fragrant flowers. Its leaves are dried, crushed into powder and made into a paste used since time immemorial as a cosmetic.

Roses are mentioned many times in the Bible. After exploring the Holy Land and re-examining Greek and Hebrew documents from which the Scriptures were translated, botanists are now agreed that a narcissus, a crocus, a rock rose and an oleander were variously referred to as "roses".

Of all plants in the Bible, the lily is most famous and the one about which there has been the most differences of opinion. Modern scholars believe that, in the King James version, at least five or six kinds of plants are referred to by that name. Undoubtedly, considering the context of certain passages, one of them was the yellow flag, an iris common in the Holy Land. Hebrew botanists are convinced that the "lilies of the field" were actually the chamomile, a plant with white daisy-like flowers, also common there. The lilies in the Song of Solomon are now regarded as being a hyacinth with deep blue, fragrant flowers, native in Palestine and Lebanon.

Also native and discovered growing wild in a few of the deep moist limesinks in northern Palestine, is the white Madonna lily -- our traditional symbol of Easter.


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