Holy Horticulture|Extension seminar focuses on plants of the Bible

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 3, 2009


Sunday sermons examine 40-day floods and burning bushes — but what kind of bush was it — a mulberry, or maybe hydrangea?

In a presentation Tuesday at the Warren County Extension Office, Lelia Scott Kelly, an associate Extension professor and consumer horticulture specialist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, challenged people to give a second thought to the dozens of plants and flowers mentioned in the Bible.

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“For hundreds of years, people have been interested in the botany of the Bible,” Kelly said.

Her presentation, Plants of the Bible, is based on a book with the same name by Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke.

Kelly explained that many of the Bible’s early translators were not native speakers of Greek or Hebrew — the languages from which they were translating — and often didn’t recognize the words for plant names, so they substituted with plants and flowers they knew.

Some of the translators who were doing this creative writing had not been to the Holy Land and didn’t know what plants were growing in the region. Others who had been there, Kelly said, failed to consider the land’s botanical changes and plants that had been introduced or decimated since biblical times.

“Those of us who are believers may think of the Bible as a history book,” Kelly said. “In that respect, if it’s a history book, it ought to be accurate.”

Biblical botanists such as the Moldenkes compared plant references in various verses and used clues to determine what the Rose of Sharon and the Judas tree really were — paperwhite narcissus and redbud.

On Tuesday, Kelly took the audience of about 25 people through the deduction process for 11 plants and flowers mentioned throughout the Bible.

First the group investigated Lilies of the Field, which are referenced in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Kelly noted that the plant must have been colorful, able to grow in open fields, prolific and a springtime bloom. After a few wrong guesses, the audience of Master Gardeners and novices came to the answer — a windflower.

Judy Moore was sitting up front during Kelly’s presentation, offering guesses and even getting one correct. Moore has taught a course at Alcorn State University about Bible-inspired art forms and is a Master Gardener. She said the event appealed to a wider range of people than just gardeners.

“Lots of people may not be so interested in plants, but they are interested in the Bible,” Moore said. “So it pulls people in.”

Although some believers may be more concerned with Adam and Eve than the Garden of Eden, knowing that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was an apricot tree can add depth to their biblical understanding.

“When you know some of the specifics like this,” Moore said, “it makes it more real for people.”