PLANTS AND FRUIT TREES OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN




The are only a few clues in the Old Testament that tell us about the plants that grew in the Garden of Eden. Even the iconic apple, the fruit most associated with the garden, goes without a mention. Although the Garden of Eden no longer exits as 'Gods kingdom on earth' there is plenty of evidence to point out where it used to be - an area somewhere around the Persian Gulf. Given our modern historical and geological knowledge of this region its possible to piece together a list of plants that would have been flourishing here during its fertile period as Eden. You may be suprised at how many you are already familiar with.
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Comparing what we know about the Persian Gulf, combined with clues written in bible texts, it is possible to get an overall view of the types of plants that were native to this area. Of course this region was full of busy and important trading routes so many non-indigenous plant species have been introduced and naturalised from from the seeds and fruit brought in by ancient Persian traders. Lets start at the beginning of the Bible were we have our initial description of those very first plants.

Genesis 2:8- 17. And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil...

…. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
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Genesis 3:2-2. And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden.

The important thing here is the word 'trees' as this shows that there were more species here than just the fig, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge. If you take the text as literal then of course all trees and plants that exist today would have been in the Garden of Eden - except for, of course, any man made hybrids and cultivars. For those of you who believe that Biblical text is open to interpretation through metaphor then we can look elsewhere. Let's begin with the fig.

Figs - Ficus carica. This is the easiest one to identify as it is mentioned in Genesis 3:7

‘…And the eyes of them both were opened and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons…’

Apple - Malus sieversii. We also know from the Old Testament that there was a tree of knowledge, but only tradition has made this out to be an apple tree. Although the bible says that every tree was in Eden, were there really any apples? The answer is - ' yes, quite possibly', but maybe not what we would recognise in our Kentish orchards, it would look more similar to a greenish crab apple. Its wild ancestor originated from Central Asia where it can still be found today and so it is highly likely that some ancient cultivated variety made it there several thousand years ago. They were certainly around in biblical times and mentioned many times in their texts. One of the best examples is from Song of Solomon.
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'...Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste...'

Quince - Cydonia oblonga. The quince is the only existing member of the genus Cydonia and its cultivation is believed to pre -date that of apple culture. Although it is indigenous to the Persian region its strange that there isn't a single reference to it in the bible. However it's believed that many references found in the Bible regarding apples are a miss-translation and were in fact meant to be about the quince.

Black mulberry – Morus nigra. This plant is certainly native to southwestern Asia, but because it has been under cultivation for such a long time its true native range is unknown. Nevertheless, it was then as it is still today regarded as a viable crop and also worthy of a mention in Luke 17:6.
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'...He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you...'

The pomegranate - Punica granatum. This gorgeous fruiting tree is native to the region from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India where it has been cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region. The pomegranate is mentioned several times in the bible most notably in the Song of Solomon 13.

'...Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard...'

Doum Fruit – Hyphaene thebaica. This is a sweet orange/red fruit also known as gingerbread fruit which is a harvested from the doum palm, it was also an extremely popular fruit in Egyptian times. In fact - as recently as 2007 - eight baskets filled with doum fruits preserved for more than 3,000 years were discovered by Egyptian archaeologists in Tutankhamen’s tomb. We know that its native habitat reaches as far north as Israel so the existence of doum plants in Gods great Garden is a strong possibility. Unfortunately this plant is also not mention in the bible, but again this could be due to translation errors.

Pistachios - Pistacia vera. Native to Iran and adjacent areas, pistachios have been carbon-dated to 6760 BC. This nut of antiquity is one of two mentioned in the Old Testament. In fact its believed that pistachio trees were featured in the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon. These gardens were built in around 700 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar as a way to cheer up his wife, Amytis, who found the flat Babylonian landscape dreary. These nuts are also mentioned in Genesis 43:11.

'...Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds...'

Sayer or Sair dates - Pheonix Dactylifera. Dates have been a source of food for civilisation throughout the course of history and are native to the Persian Gulf. They also get a mention in Samuel 6:19

'...Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women...'

Grape vines – Vitis vinifers.The appearance of the grapevine on earth has been dated to between 130 to 200 million years ago. With mankind’s relationship to this plant dating back to the Neolithic period surely this above all plants must have been in the garden of Eden. At least it gets a mention in Deuteronomy 8:8

'...a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey...'

Almond - Prunus dulcis. The econd nut of antiquity is the almond which again is a native to the Persian Gulf. Over the millenia it has been spread by ancient traders along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa and southern Europe. Domesticated almonds appear in the early bronze age (3000–2000 BC) of the Near East. A well-known archaeological example of the almond is the fruit found in Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant. Its fruit is somewhat sour, but is a popular snack in parts of the Middle East where they are dipped in salt to balance the sour taste. It also gets a good early mention in genesis 30:37.

'...Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches...'

Olive - Olea europaea. Don't be confused by its European sounding name as this is yet another valuable food crop native to the Persian Gulf region. It is not known exactly when the wild olive became a domesticated crop but it has all the historic credentials necessary for place in the garden of Eden. Not only is it mentioned in Homers classic Odyssey it is also mentioned in chapter 8 of Genesis when Noah finds olive leaves the dove's beak.

Modern Persian cooking still holds a link to the plants of its land, with each province featuring dishes, as well as culinary traditions and styles, distinct to that regions. Their main dishes are combinations of rice mixed with meat, chicken or fish. These would be eaten with with onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. Herbs are also commonly added to local fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. However in order to achieve a balanced taste, characteristic flavourings are added such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley. It just goes to show that even in this modern age of world food availability, their culture of food has changed very little.

But it wasn't just beautiful - as well as economically important - trees that were around during the time of the Garden of Eden, some of the ornamental plants that we still cherish today would have been growing there too. Look in your garden and you probably already find Persian favorites such as tulips, jasmines, hyacinths, fritillarias, Poppies, and Pittosporum. Along with everything else in the region the garden of Eden must have been a truly magnificent sight.

For related articles click onto the following links:
BBC Garden of Eden
How to Grow an Apricot Tree
Plants in the Garden of Eden

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