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Native to rocky regions of southwestern Asia, including parts of Turkey, northwestern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel, the common hyacinth become known as the Dutch hyacinth when it was introduced to Europe in the 16th century.  It is a bulbous perennial and a member of the asparagus family, Asparagaceae, that also includes lily of the valley, yucca, and hosta.  Plants grow 6-12″ tall and have 3-4 basal whorl of narrowly strap-shaped leaves .  In mid spring a single stiff  leafless flowering stem appears bearing 2-50 heavily scented tubular flowers with 6 reflexed petals.   The species has purple petals but many varieties and cultivars have been produced so that white, pink, peach, and red.  In addition, some varieties  multiple flowering stems and flowers with a double row of petals.  The popularity of the common hyacinth has varied over the years and at their peak of popularity a single bulb sold for $300.  The plants are especially attractive when planted in groups in borders, beds, and rock gardens.  They are good for containers and can be forced for Christmas bloom.  Although perennial, plants tend to decline in a few years and have to be replanted.  All parts of the plant are moderately poisonous if ingested and can irritate the skin of sensitive individuals. The genus name, Hyacinthus, honors a ancient god associated with the rebirth of vegetation.  In ancient Greek mythology the beautiful youth Hyakinthos was accidently killed by Apollo and from his blood sprang the plants named in his memory, although modern scholars believe Gladiolus italicus was intended. The specific epithet, orientalis, indicates the eastern origin of the plant. [click to continue…]


This herbaceous annual was grown from ancient times and is native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, dating back to 4000 BC in Iraq.  Also known as Greek hay it has been used as food for both cattle and humans andwas one of the 16 herbs  recommended for use in the 9th century plan for the physics garden of the St. Gall Benedictine abbey in Switzerland.  It is also one of the many plants recommended for the gardens of Charlemagne but is not in Walahfrid Strabo’s list of herbs for his garden that may have been a physics garden.  Fenugreek, however, still is popular as a culinary herb for its celery- maple flavor and is especially valued in Indian and Middle Eastern cuizine. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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Also known as babul, thorn mimosa, Egyptian acacia and thorny acacia this evergreen flowering tree or shrub is native to Africa, the Middle East, and India where it is found in grasslands, woodlands, scrub, thickets, and along river banks the experience periodic flooding .  It is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also includes bean, lupine, and locust.  The trees grow 16-66′ tall from a deep root system and have a dense spherical or flat crown, dark colored fissured bark, and axillary pairs of thin, straight gray spines 3″ long when young.  The bipinnate leaves are divided into 3-6 pairs of leaflets that are further divided into 10-30 pairs of pinnulae.  Glands may be located at the base of the leaf petiole and between the pinnulae.  In summer, axillary globular heads of  golden yellow flowers about 1/2″ across appear on 1″ long stems.  The fruits are white-gray, hairy pods that are constricted around the 12 or less roundish enclosed seeds.  The trees have been valued since ancient times for a variety of uses including herbal medicine and food.  They have naturalized in the US and Australia, however, and become invasive weeds.   Some authorities believe that this plant growing with a parasitic plant with red flowers may be the “burning bush” mentioned in the Bible, Exodus 3:2-4. The genus name Acacia is from the ancient Greek word  ἄκις (ákis) meaning thorn.  The specific epithet, nilotica, refers to the tree’s best-known range along the Nile  river. [click to continue…]

Plants of the Bible: Ivy (Hedera helix)

This evergreen climbing vine is a member of the Aralia family, Araliaceae, that also includes Fatsia and Schefflera and  is native to most of Europe and western Asia where it grows in waste spaces and on walls and tree trunks.  Growing up to 98’ long, this vine produces aerial rootlets with matted pads that cling tightly to various surfaces. The dark green leaves are waxy and have conspicuous white veins. Young leaves are palmately five-lobed while older leaves on flowering stems in full sun are unlobed and cordate. The small greenish-yellow flowers are produced in umbels up to 2” wide from late summer to late fall and are followed by .3” wide black-purple fruits attractive to wildlife. Ivy is considered invasive in many areas and can do serious damage to stucco, wood, brick mortar, and aluminum siding.  [click to continue…]

Also called Indian cress, this trailing annual  is in the family Tropaeolaceae and  is native to the Andes from Bolivia to Colombia.  Plants grow 2-12″ tall  or more with support and spread up to 10 feet.  They hug the ground but will climb if given some support.  The leaves are almost round, peltate, and held on long petioles. The five petaled flowers are  spurred. 1 to 2.5 inches across, and yellow, orange, or red.  They bloom from mid-summer to fall and give way to three seeded  fruits  3/4 inch across. Nasturtiums do best in cool climates where night time temperatures in summer are below 70 F.  They like full sun and moist, well-drained soil.  Propagation is by seed and plants may self-seed.    The common name, nasturtium ,is the genus name for water cress (Nasturtium officinale, a plant unrelated to this Tropaeolum majus) and comes from the Latin nos meaning nose and tortum meaning twist referring to the flower’s scent that makes people’s nose twist when they eat it. The other common name, Indian cress, comes from the false belief that South America where the plant was first found was the Indies, and use of the plant in salad was like cress.  The genus name, Tropaeolum, comes from the Greek word tropaion/ Latin word tropaeum, meaning trophy, and refers to the custom of the Romans in the battlefield when they hung the shields (the round leaves) and blood stained helmets (flowers) of the vanquished on pillars. Presumably, the look of the pillars with the trophies was similar to the flowering vine growing on a support.  The specific epithet, majus, is the Latin word meaning larger. [click to continue…]

Also known as Italian stone pine, umbrella pine and parasol pine, this coniferous evergreen tree is native to the Mediterranean region including southern Europe, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.  It is a member of the pine family, Pinaceae, that also includes spruce, hemlock, and larch. The trees may grow 30-80′ tall but usually no taller than 65′. They have a thick trunk with  red-brown fissured bark and are branched to form a wide flat canopy at maturity.   Small blue green juvenile needles are produced singly for the first 5-10 years and when the plant is injured, but are replaced gradually by stiff mid-green needles 4 to 8″ long and produced in bundles of two.  Rounded-ovoid male and female cones  are produced on the same tree and are shiny light brown, about 3-6″ long, and have blunt scales. Fertilized female cones produce edible nuts three years after being fertilized.  Each nut is about 3/4″ long, pale brown with a black powdery coating that easily rubs off, and a ineffectual wing.  Stone pine has been cultivated for over 6,000 years for its pine nuts but are also valued for their ornamental appeal, especially in parks and other public spaces.  Small plants are used for table Christmas trees and bonsai.  The genus name, Pinus, and specific epithet, pinea, both come from the Latin name for the tree. [click to continue…]

Brown lacewing Micromus_ Joseph Berger

Photo by Joseph Berger, Wikipedia

Brown lacewings are in the insect family Hemerobiidae and are more closely related to duskywings than to green lacewings. Although common world wild, brown lacewings are most abundant in North America west of the Rocky Mountains where they in habit woods, forests, and fields. The adults are brown or beige often with four lighter brown membranous wings covered with hairs. Their bodies are 3/8 to 5/8 ” long , their compound eyes are brown, and their long antennae are covered with short brown hairs. The alligator-shaped larvae are white at first turning brown with maturity. They have a few bristles on their bodies and a sickle-shaped jaw. Both adults and larvae are predaceous and feed on aphids, mealybugs, mites, whiteflies, thrips, scale insects, leaf hoppers, pear psylla, other soft bodied insects, caterpillars of many different moths and insect eggs. [click to continue…]

This evergreen shrub or small tree is found in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, southern Oman, Sudan and in southeast Egypt and is a member of the torchwood family, Burseraceae, that also includes fankincense and myrrh.  It is also known as Balm of Gilead but shares that common name with several other plants.  Plants may be shrubs or trees, erect or prostrate, depending on the site and may grow up to 12′ tall with spreading branches.  The leaves are pinately compound with 3-5 oblong leaflets .2-1.5″ long.  In summer small male and female flowers are produced  singly or in small clusters of 2-5 on short side shoots  along the banches of different plants.  The male flowers are cream colored at first but quickly change to yellow then red, attracting  bees, ants and other pollinators. The fertilized female flowers give way to dull red  one seeded edible fruits with 4 longitudinal white strips.  The plants are valued for their sap, bark, wood and seeds and have been used since ancient times for perfume and medicinal compounds.  The bark is cut to allow the sap to run out and dry for use as incense.  The genus name Commiphora, comes from the Greek kommi meaning gum and phoros meaning bearing and refers to the resin.  The specific epithet, gileadensis, honors Gilead, the  the mountainous area east of the Jordan River,rernowned for its balm.

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Plants of the Bible: Henna (Lawsonia inermis)

Native to semi-arid and tropical areas of  Africa, Asia, and northern Australia, this slender, much branched, evergreen shrub or small tree is also known as mignonette tree and Egyptian privet.  It  is in the  loosestrife family, Lythraceae, that also includes crepe myrtle and pomgranate, and is the only species  in the genus Lawsonia.  The shrub grows up to 25′ tall and has  spine tiped branchlets.  The elliptical to lanceolate leaves are .5 to 2″ long and have pointed tips and depressed veins on the upperside. Although considered evergreen, the plant will lose leaves during periods of prolonged dryness or cool temperatures.   Small  very fragrant white flowers appear from spring to fall and give way to small brownish capsules containing 32 to 49 seeds. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons [click to continue…]

Native to Madagascar, this evergreen semi-succulent shrub is a member of the spurge family, Euphorbaceae, that also includes pointsettia, croton, and castor oil plant.  The plants grow up to 6′ tall and have thick fleshy grayish-brown  stems that are branched, 3-5 angled, and covered with 1″ long spines/thorns.  The obobate , bright green to gray-green leaves are up to 6″ong,  arranged sprirally, and are tend to be just on the branch tips. The inconspicuous flowers are 1″ wide, have showy yellow or red bracts, and may bloom all year.  Plants are useful in containers and hedges as well as for xeriscaping  in rock gardens and seaside gardens.  All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested and the milky sap from the stems may irritate the skin.  The plant is considered to be sacred in the Bathouist religion of the Bodo people of Assam, West Bengal, Nagaland and Nepal and symbolises the supreme deity, Bathoubwrai (Master of the Five Elements). The genus name, Euphorbia, honors Euphorbus, the ancient Greek herbalist and personal physician of Juba II, King of Mauretania, an area in North Africa.  The specific epithet, milii,  honors  M. le baron Milius, Governor of Île Bourbon, present-day Île de la Réunion (Reunion Island) who may have introduced the plant into France in 1821.  The varietal name, splendens, comes from the Latin word splendeo meaning shine. [click to continue…]