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Biblical dendrology

April 22, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

bible trees

“The groves were God’s first temples.”
William Cullen Bryant, A Forest Hymn

Today is Good Friday and this weekend is Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day in the Christian world.  Trees feature strongly in Christianity, reflecting their social, spiritual and economical importance throughout history.  Some 37 tree species receive mention in the Bible (some of which are referenced – right).

Trees are very significant in the Old Testament. Perhaps no more so than in the ‘tree of life':

… on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.… Revelation 22:1-3

In Genesis 6:14, to escape the impending flood God commanded Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; the meaning of gopher wood remains a mystery to modern scholars.

Dogwood flower

"And the blossoms shall be in the form of a cross. Two long petals and two short. And in the center of each petal there will be nail prints, Crown with rust and stained with red. And in the center of the flower will be a crown--of thorns. And all who pass and see the Dogwood tree. Will remember me." Anon.

Within the New Testament, trees continued to be of great significance.  Of the three gifts brought by the wise men to the infant Jesus, two were the product of trees: the tree resins (dried sap) of frankincense from Boswellia spp. and myrrh from Commiphora spp.  On the Sunday before his resurrection, Jesus entered Jerusalem and the people placed tree branches for him to walk on; a feast now celebrated as Palm Sunday.

Legend tells us that Jesus was crucified on a cross made from Dogwood, even though none of the 30 or more species of Dogwood grow large enough to produce suitable timbers for this purpose.  The discrepancy is explained in this delightful poem:

The Legend of the Dogwood
Anon.

In Jesus’ time,
the dogwood grew
to a stately size
and a lovely hue.

‘Twas strong and firm
it’s branches interwoven,
for the cross of Christ
its timbers were chosen.

Seeing the distress
at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise
which still holds good:

“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.

Slender and twisted it shall be
with blossoms like the cross for all to see.

As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
the blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.

All who see it will remember Me
crucified on a cross
from the dogwood tree.

Cherished and protected,
this tree shall be.
A reminder to all of my agony.”

Gabriel Hemery

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