For the past two weeks, the vegetables, strawberries, and raspberries in our backyard garden have surged upwards with luxuriant abandon. These productive days were signaled by the Heirloom German Irises in our front yard. This late spring botanical celebration was in turn heralded by the early April blossuming of Redbud and Dogwood trees. The greening of our garden and the flowering of the hillsides showcases the regenerative capacity of life and provides a glimpse of hope that Life always persists or returns in some form. As much of Nature demonstrates a form of rebirth and resurrection, the Redbud and Dogwood are steeped in Easter legend.
Despite the delicate, pink effulgence of their blossums, the Redbud tree has an unflattering and politically-incorrect nickname, the “Judas Tree”. Legend has it that the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself was a Redbud tree.
A more widely-known Easter tree is the Dogwood, with it’s flower clusters framed by four white, heart-shaped leaves (not petals). The white leaves give the flower clusters a cross shape. Old-timers in Appalachia said that the Dogwood was once a tall, straight-trunked tree. After its wood was used to build the cross on which Christ was crucified, the Dogwood was cursed to grow low and crooked.
As niether the Eastern Redbud nor the Flowering Dogwood are native to Palestine, these legends are by no means factual. Yet, the paucity of historical fact in the legends of these two trees does not detract from their capacity to inspire hope in rebirth and resurrection. Hence, truth can be found where natural beauty meets the stories told by observers of nature, even when the stories transcend fact.