Gardening: Fragrant flowers

Eucalyptus trees played a significant role in making modern Israel habitable. In the early 1890s, half of the original settlers of Hadera died of malaria.

eucalyptus tree 88  (photo credit: )
eucalyptus tree 88
(photo credit: )
Celebrated mid-way between the Tu Bishvat and Pessah Seders, the Purim feast does not require consumption of the kinds of garden edibles associated with the two festive meals that come one month before and one month after it. Tu Bishvat is the new year for trees, accompanied by a kabbalistic Seder (instituted in 16th-century Safed) during which 12 different tree fruits and nuts are consumed. The Pessah Seder, which arrives amidst the balmy days and first growth flushes of spring, begins with consumption of a karpas vegetable, whether parsley, celery, radishes, carrots, onions or potatoes. Just prior to the Seder meal, marror - in the form of Romaine lettuce or horseradish - is eaten, but not before it has been dipped in charoset, a sweet compound that may include walnuts, apples and dates. Purim, by contrast, although associated with feasting in the garden pavilion of King Ahasuerus, does not include consumption of any special fruits or vegetables. Yet the heroes of Purim have names that conjure up fragrant plants, and the hamantaschen, our favorite Purim pastry, traditionally contain seeds of a narcotic poppy. The mor in Mordechai is the Hebrew word for myrrh, an aromatic plant extract. Onkelos renders Mordechai into Aramaic as "mira dachia" or pure myrrh. Esther is also known as Hadassah, and hadass is Hebrew for myrtle, the fragrant, leafed plant shaken on Succot together with the lulav, etrog and willow. After the Messiah comes, Purim will be the only holiday that we will continue to celebrate (Midrash Mishlei, 9:2). In the Messianic era, the light of Shabbat, which will glow throughout the week, will simply outshine the light of every holiday, with the exception of Purim. In this regard, it is appropriate that Purim's protagonists have names suggestive of aromatic plants, since the Messiah will be recognizable by his fragrance. Psalm 45, which speaks of the Messiah's qualities in some detail, describes his clothes as scented with cassia, aloe and, perhaps in a tribute to Mordechai, myrrh. Mor (myrrh) is also cognate with Moriah, the Temple Mount, from which earth was taken to create Adam, upon which Abraham bound Isaac and where, later on, the Holy Temple stood and will be rebuilt after the Messiah arrives. The Messiah will not only have a pleasant aroma about him, but will also be possessed with acute olfactory sensitivity and be able to "sniff out" everyone's true character (Isaiah 11:3). Recall that the only sense left uncorrupted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden was the sense of smell. It follows, then, that the Messiah would not trust his eyes or ears, but rely instead on his nose, in rendering judgment (Sanhedrin 93b). Myrrh is taken from the sap of thorny, trifoliate shrubs or small trees (Commiphora species) that grow up to 12 feet tall. These plants are native to East Africa, Arabia and India, but one species (Commiphora habyssinica) has been successfully grown in Ein Gedi and at Bar Ilan University. The hadass, or myrtle, is a member of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) of plants, many of which are drought-tolerant species indigenous to Australia. This group includes eucalyptus trees, which are famous for both scented leaves and landscape-changing roots. Eucalyptus trees played a significant role in making modern Israel habitable. In the early 1890s, half of the original settlers of Hadera died of malaria. Hadera comes from an Arabic word for green and refers to the color of the swamps once found there. In 1895, eucalyptus trees were planted in the Hadera region and their roots, as effective as any hydraulic pump, soon lowered the water table and drained the swamps. Today, you can visit 38 species of eucalyptus trees at Gan Garoo in the Beit Shean Valley, a park dedicated to the flora and fauna of Australia. Two of my favorite eucalyptuses are the lemon-scented gum (Eucalyptus citriodora), with citrus aroma and transfixing alabaster bark, and the moderate-sized peppermint eucalyptus (Eucalyptus gunnii), a relatively cold-tolerant species. The myrtle family incidentally includes other Australian trees, most notably the red bottle brush (Callistemon citrinus) and white paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia). If, for some reason, you have to undergo drug testing at this time of year, take care not to eat a poppy seed hamantasch beforehand. The common poppy seeds used in baking are harvested from opium poppy (Papaever somniferum) plants. After you consume a poppy seed-filled pastry, the presence of alkaloid compounds such as morphine and codeine can be detected in your system. Opium poppies are highly ornamental and several deeply ruffled varieties have been developed in red, salmon, lavender, purple and white. In late winter or early spring, dust the seeds over organic, well-drained soil. Only a few plants may come up the first year, but the blooms drop their seeds in place and, after a few years, you will have a veritable forest of flowers.