Holy Land Plants for the Southwest

This time of year is holy to many religions, celebrating various miracles of life. As many of us turn our thoughts to events that occurred long ago and half a world away, I thought I might address a topic that has long fascinated me: plants of the Holy Land * that can be grown here in the Southwest.

herb-holy-land
Germander is a lovely bright green herb you can use like you would rosemary.
Carob

For edible landscaping, consider the carob. Cerotonia siliqua is in the same family as the mesquite tree, only it never sheds its leaves, and it provides a deep dense shade, plus deliciously chocolate-like edible fruit. With a mature size of 30 feet tall by 30 feet wide, carob is not the tree for a narrow patio.

tasty-southwest-tree

Figs

Then there are figs. Figs are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow in our area. Father Kino brought them here over 300 years ago! They do well in our alkaline soils, and can quickly grow into lovely, spreading shade trees. Trees produce fruit in as little as two to three years, and thrive and produce with little effort for the next hundred years or so. Figs do not need cross pollination, so a single tree can produce ample fruit for a household.

fig-black-mission-arizona
Figs fresh off the tree are delightfully tasty. You can freeze them intact for a cool after-dinner treat.

Fig trees are lovely, with smooth pale creamy-grey bark and large bright green leaves. They are deciduous – dropping their leaves in autumn, nice for some warming winter sun. Depending on the variety, a mature fig tree can reach 25 to 40 feet tall and spread 25 to 60 feet wide. Fig trees can easily be pruned to a tidy, compact form, although a larger canopy will produce more fruit. Figs can be espaliered – pruned and anchored to grow flat along a wall. Figs can also be grown as container plants, so if you are not yet in your “forever home,” you can still grow your own fruit.

herb-edible-savorthesw
Thyme requires well drained soil. I killed a few plants before I learned this trick.
Herbs

Holy Land cooking herbs include germander, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, and rosemary. You could add medicinal herbs like aloe and iris. These perennial plants use much less space than a tree!

I like the concept of having a Holy Land theme garden featuring plants that long ago ancestors cared for, harvested from, and used to nourish their lives. (But then I also like native plants  – but that’s a different post!)

holy land-plants-grow
Harvesting carob. Artist unknown.

* Holy Land, as I am using it here, includes Israel and parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. It’s the lands at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Bio-geographers call it an Eastern Mediterranean Climate. This type of climate is divided into the rainy season, from November to March, and the dry season, from May to September, with two transition months. The extended summer dry season is fairly tough on plants. But that makes them ideal for our area!

Soule-Jacqueline-writerAbout the Author

Please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Western National Parks Associations Bookstore, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  Note – this is an Amazon link – if you click on it and buy my book I get a few pennies.

© All articles are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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