The entire concept of the symbolism of trees, plants and flowers had to start somewhere. That somewhere is with religion. Every major religion has at least one tree, plant or flower that is considered, for whatever particular reasons, to be entirely sacred to believers of that faith. From the pre-dawn of religious belief throughout the spiritual history of humankind, there has been a Tree of Life that is considered to be sacred. From belief to belief, the specifically related symbolism of the Tree of Life varies. But one thing is consistent throughout each belief—The Tree of Life is revered. If you would like to read much more about it, there is an exceptionally interesting Wikipedia page on the subject.
For Christians their most sacred book, The Holy Bible, relates in Genesis 2:3 that there was a particularly sacred tree located in the center of The Garden of Eden. No one knows, exactly, what the genus of this powerful tree actually was. What we do know is that The First Man and The First Woman, Adam and Eve, were specifically forbidden to even touch it. Or else that would be the end of…well…everything…because, to disobey God, who passed on this command would initiate Death. As a consequence, when a fruit from that tree was eaten, being as it was The Forbidden Fruit, Death did come and now we all come and go by way of birth and death. Nobody knows for certain what the actual Forbidden Fruit was. Symbolically, it has been known to be an apple.
Folklore supports the apple theory because if you cut an apple across the center between stem and bud end, the core pith forms the shape of a star. However, up until an eager botanist decided to call the genus of the fruit we know as an apple, to be Malus, all hard fruits…at the time…were called apples. Why was the apple we know called Malus? Hmm. Perhaps it is because a botanist decided that would be a good name for it…all things considered. And perhaps, because up until then the only fruit that presented a star shape was that particular fruit. The tropical Starfruit had not yet been discovered to give it a star-like name…based of course, upon it’s obvious shape. Was the Starfruit the fabled Forbidden Fruit? Who knows? Nobody. But whatever we might speculate, back then…in The Garden of Eden…the particular fruit in question was forbidden. And now the apple we know so well, Malus domestica, is the quintessential symbol of The Forbidden Fruit. So be it.
In the story of the legendary Forbidden Fruit we have a symbolic fruit that is not only immensely sacred as to be entirely forbidden to eat or even touch the tree…it was a killer fruit to be sure…fruit that for all practical purposes might be merely a legend. But the thing about legends are that they tend to originate with a true or true-ish event that might be embellished somewhat along the way of its telling. However, we all are well aware that there actually are fruits so dangerous…so deadly…that to eat them would bring certain death.
Oddly enough, there is also a tree that is so dangerous…so deadly…that the tree itself will kill. That tree is the Manchineel Tree.
The Machineel Tree is native to Florida in the United States, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. Hippomane mancinella, commonly known as the Manchineel Tree is one of the most poisonous trees in the entire world. The ancient Carib Indians would kill their enemies by simply tying their victim to the trunk of that tree and let the tree effectively do all the dirty work for them, slowly and painfully. One of the common names of the Manchineel Tree’s fruit is called “The Devil’s Apple.” Under the circumstances, symbolically, it seems quite suitable as the Caribe Indians used it for all forms of eliminating those who they did not want anywhere near them. As a matter of documented fact, it was a Manchineel sap tipped arrow that delivered explorer, Ponce de Leon, his fatal wound when rounding near to where Saint Petersburg, Florida is.
We might not have a singular clue as to what The Forbidden Fruit might have been, but we surely do know all about Hyssopus officinalis, which is better known as Hyssop. Hyssop was mentioned several times in The Bible, firstly in Leviticus where it was describe as a purification herb. But hyssop was first used symbolically during its first mention in Exodus 12:20. There it is told that Hyssop was to be used by the Israelites as a paintbrush of sorts, to dip into the blood of a lamb then use the bloody Hyssop branch to mark…or paint…their door posts so The Angel of Death who was scheduled that night to bring death to the firstborn of all…man or beast…as God was bearing a gravely pointed judgement upon the Egyptians. It seemed to have worked. It is written that the firstborn behind the blood marked doors of the Israelite households survived, whereas the firstborn of the Egyptians did not. It is written that the Pharaoh reluctantly let the Israelites leave Egypt with Moses, as one of the firstborn who died was the Pharaoh’s own son. The event is legendary, considered sacred, and has been commemorated as Passover ever since.
In The New Testament of The Christian Bible Frankincense and Myrrh made their appearance in the story of the birth of Jesus when The Three Magi presented their gifts to him in Bethlehem. Both of these cherished gifts are derivatives of the plants they are obtained from. The floriography relating to these particular plants is unmistakable and has persisted for thousands of years. A few others plants mentioned in The Old Testament are Fig, Acacia, Almond, Date, Anise and Palms. The list of plants, trees, and flowers mentioned in The Bible is quite extensive. There are several lists available on other websites that I found interesting. One of them being on a plant website maintained by Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Click here to see their list of Bible Plants. Almost all of them have a symbolism of one kind or another.
In the Jewish faith, there are four specific plants mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus 23:4 that absolutely embodies the concept of floriography because the symbolism of these plants is utterly crucial to Sukkot. There are a few interpretations of how to create a sukkah, but it is essentially constructed from the plants and fruits of the four species. The waving of these four plants is considered to be a mitzvah (a commandment) that has been ordered by the Torah, and waving it contains symbolic references to the Jewish commitment and service of God. A very interesting article explaining The Four Species and how they are selected and the possible reasons why and what they specifically symbolize can be found by clicking on this Wikipedia page regarding The Four Species.
In the Muslim faith, there are fifty-four specific plants mentioned in The Holy Quran. Among them are: Fig, Pomegranate, Olive, Corn, Leek, Garlic, Onion, Lentil, Barley, Wheat, Ginger, Pumpkin, Watermelon, Tamarind, Cedar, Grapes, Banana, Cucumber, and Basil. In Dubai, botanists have plans to plant and nurture fifty of the fifty-four plants in an extraordinarily unique garden, which you can read more about by clicking on Dubai’s Holy Quran Park.
Tulsi, means “incomparable one” and it is more commonly known as Holy Basil. Tulsi is actually so venerated that Hindu followers worship this plant morning and evening. To Hindu believers, Tulsi is so holy that the plant, itself, is considered to be diefied. No Hindu home would be complete without a cherished and nurtured Tulsi plant growing in an especially revered location very close to it. This is because Holy Basil symbolizes the religious pulse of that Hindu family.
In Buddhism the Ficus religioso, Bowhich is also known as the Peepal Tree. It is a very special tree. So special, in fact, that some of those trees are considered to be particularly holy trees because it is the tree under which sat Lord Gautama Buddha while he was meditating beneath its spreading canopy. It was then and it was there that he attained his spiritual enlightenment. From that point on that tree became known as a Bodhi Tree which means “enlightenment”. Not all Ficus religioso trees are considered to be Bodhi Trees. Only those that can be traced all the way back to the original tree parent may have that esteemed honor. The original tree was destroyed a long time ago. However, a cutting branch from that tree had been taken, rooted, nurtured and grown to replace it. As a matter of fact, a branch of the original tree was rooted in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka in 288 BCE and is known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. It is the oldest flowering plant in the world. The leaves of a Bodi Tree are considered to be sacred. To have one in your possession is to have a holy relic. Although it is unlikely that the leaves being sold online are actually from one of the actual holy Bodhi Trees, it is possible to obtain a hand-painted Peepal Leaf. Some of them are extremely beautiful and meaningful in themselves.
To the Druids, the holy plant was Viscum album, which is better known as European Mistletoe. Being a parasitic plant, mistletoe was found up in the tree branches of host trees. Viscum album is also a part of Greek mythology and it is believed to be THE Golden Bough of Aeneas, which is the ancestor of the Romans. Mistletoe also figures into the Old Norse beliefs. Then in pre-Christian European beliefs, until finally it appears as a Christmas plant under which the custom of kissing during the Christmas season took hold. The Druids cherished it so greatly that to them there is nothing more sacred than mistletoe that is found in an oak tree. The oak tree has been an important element in the selection of sacred mistletoe because it is rarely found in oaks, which made its discovery all the more special. The Druids gathered mistletoe with great ceremonial reverence involving sacrifice and feasting, on…if at all possible…The Sixth Day of The Moon. In the ancient Druid language the mistletoe was called “the all-healing”.
On and on the symbolism of trees, plants, flowers, fruit, seeds, sap, leaves, and wood developed throughout history until the floriography of these earthborn wonders became something we have not considered at all. This is because we have been taken them for granted. They are always there…somewhere…outside of our homes, inside our refrigerators and cupboards, everywhere there is something growing somewhere. Even what we perceive to be barren desert will have a plant growing there…somewhere.
In some deserts there will be found an oasis that nurtures several—perhaps even many different kinds of trees, plants and flowers that seemingly grow up out in the middle of what is seen as vast nothingness. To any who come upon a desert oasis, or if the oasis is large enough to support day to day residence (as some are) it matters not what any book or list assigns to any particular growing thing there around them as all of it is appreciated, cherished, nurtured and spiritually embraced as all that grows in an oasis is symbolic of “Life”.
⇒ Available at these trustworthy online booksellers: