The almond tree – Prunus amygdalus – is native to the Levant. Its fruit (technically a drupe rather than a nut) is edible. It is said to have been one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated, possibly because it can be grown from seed – no skills in grafting are needed. The tree grows to a height of between 4 and 10m. Its is one of the first trees to produce blossom in the spring and is therefore also associated with new life.
In Hebrew the word for almond ‘shaqad’, also has the meaning of watchfulness. When Jeremiah sees the flowering almond, God says that it is a sign that God is watching, ready to fulfil his word. (Jeremiah 1:11-12)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
In the Bible, the Lord says: I am like the flower of the almond. Why? Because that is the first flower to blossom in the spring. He is always the first! This is fundamental for us: God is always ahead of us! When we think about going far away, to an extreme outskirt, we may be a bit afraid, but in fact God is already there. Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy
In the UK the broom is considered a shrub rather than a tree and in its cultivated forms has decorative yellow and red blooms. Native to North Africa and the Middle East is another member of the broom family known as the retama broom. The retama raetam or white weeping broom, grows to a height of 3m and up to 6m in spread. As well as being able to photosynthesise through its leaves, it can also photosynthesise through its stem which enables it to grow in hot, dry conditions. Its fruits (pea-like) and flowers provide food for goats, and its branches have been used as fuel since ancient times. Its deep roots help stabilise sandy soils.
In the Jewish tradition, the tree under which Hagar leaves Ishmael to die, for they had run out of water, is said to be the broom tree. It is also the broom tree (although alternatively it is said to have been a juniper tree!) under which the despairing Elijah also lies down having fled from Jezebel’s murderous rage. Both Hagar and Elijah then receive refreshment from God. The broom tree is thus said to symbolise renewal.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10