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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
As the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, it gives time to reflect on the birth and life that changed the world.
Little is known of his world and its unique characteristics. Like everyone else, plants were a part of his life. His life, as it is recorded, starts with his being laid in a manger that was likely wood on a bed of straw. His earthly life ended on a wooden cross.
His earthly father was a carpenter so he undoubtedly worked with wood. He certainly knew and used many different plants. They became the subject of his teaching parables as he used them to spread his message of peace, love and salvation.
The timeless Christmas story mentions two plants. “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” The Magi’s offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh were costly gifts that honored the birth of this Royal Child.
The frankincense carried by the Wise Men likely came from trees that were grown in India but some species grow in Somalia and Ethiopia. Frankincense or olibanum is a white resin extracted from the trunks of tropical Boswellia trees. The resin is used for religious rites and is burned because it gives off powerful incense. It is widely used in Arabia to fumigate homes and for cleansing the body in hot dry climates where water is very limited.
Myrrh is extracted from a thorny woody shrub. Commiphora myrrha grows 6-8 feet high in the high desert regions of Somalia and Yemen. The stems are cut and the resin form droplets and are then collected and sold. It is now used for perfumes and pharmaceuticals. It’s healing properties are for both internal and external problems. In addition to fragrance and medicinal properties, myrrh resin is used in cosmetics.
Living in the household of Joseph the Carpenter, Jesus worked with and came to know the wood that was part of his mortal occupation. Perhaps he built with the famous Cedar of Lebanon or other trees mentioned in the Bible. His familiarity with trees, wood, flowers and crops became the focus of many of his sermons and teachings. These teaching helped his followers learn and practice the principals of his teachings.
The Sermon on the Mount has many references to plant materials. One favorite is “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.” Horticulturally the “lilies” have never been positively identified. Traditional holds they were anemones but tulips, ranunculus, poppies and even irises have been described as lilies of the field. It is quite possible that the reference is not to a single kind of flower, but for all the flowers collectively covering the hills of Palestine during the spring rains.
Jesus Christ was not, of course, teaching about gardening and horticulture. His mission was of an eternal nature and his references to the plants were to help those hearing his word understand them better. At this season, his teaching of kindness, brotherly love and peace on earth are desperately needed.
Perhaps growing beautiful and useful plants can contribute in some small way to that need. I wish all gardeners everywhere the very best at this wondrous holiday season and may you enjoy the many fruits of a growing and prosperous New Year.