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The Bible mentions about 100 names of plants, mostly in the land of Israel. Many of those plants have become symbolic of the various regions of Israel: the palm tree represents the desert; the myrtle is symbolic of the Judean mountains; the willow is the plant of the rivers; citrus trees represent the coast; cedars are the trees of the northern mountains.

The Talmud adds hundreds of plant names to those mentioned in the Bible. They are particularly numerous in the Mishnah Zeraim, which deals with agricultural laws. Plants play a central part in many Jewish holidays, and the Talmud even designates a special “New Year” day for plants. Both in antiquity and today, such holidays as Sukkot, Shavuot, and Passover have been observed with rituals connected with various plants, such as the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, the bringing of the harvest on Shavuot in modem Israel, and the vegetables of the Seder plate.

Jewish concern with ecology dates back to early Biblical times. One striking example is the shemitah, or sabbatical year, during which the land is made to rest so that it can regain its strength and grow better crops.

During the period of foreign rule over Israel, culminating with the Turkish rule of the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of Israel’s flora were destroyed as the land was defoliated. Through the work of the Jewish National Fund, the land has been reclaimed, and much of the traditional flora of Israel were restored in the Galilee, the Valley, the Coast, the mountain ranges, and even parts of the desert.

The best-known traditional flora of Israel are the palm tree, cedar, fig tree, vine, citrus tree, myrtle, willow, pomegranate, lily of the valley, and olive tree. They appear on both ancient and modern Jewish coins, as well as in Jewish art and architecture.

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