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Jerusalem Resurrection Plant

The resurrection plant (Anastatica hierochuntica) is also known as Jerusalem resurrection plant, St. Mary's flower, Jericho rose and rose-of-Jericho. It is an annual of the Brassicaceae family, related to common plants like broccoli. The tumbleweed-type plant, found in depressions in sandy loam or desert soil in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East, North Africa and western Asia, has the ability to sprout flowers if fruiting branches are placed in water, even after a year or more without moisture. The genus name, Anastatica, comes from the Greek "anastasis," which means "resurrection."

Appearance and Growth Habit

The resurrection plant is small, between 2 and 4 inches tall. Its small, oval-shaped leaves and branches form a rosette. The flowers are tiny and white, with four leaves apiece. The fruits are also ovoid, with two wings on each fruit. It normally flowers in early spring, though it can flower at other times after rain. To survive the droughts characteristic of the desert environment, the plant curls in on itself, forming a woody ball that can be from 4 to 12 inches wide. A plant that demonstrates the "resurrection" phenomenon, by which the stems expand and growth begins after immersion in water, is called "hygroscopic."

Medicinal Uses

All parts of the plant are used in the form of infusions and taken internally. Preparations made from resurrection plant have been used in traditional Middle Eastern medicine for a variety of conditions, including pain, colds, epilepsy, ophthalmic ailments, diabetes and as a protection against liver disorders.

Biblical Associations

According to author James A. Duke, legend holds that the Virgin Mary clutched a handful of resurrection plant while in labor with Jesus. Because of this, it is believed that if pregnant women drink water that has been used to "resurrect" one of the plants, the water will be beneficial to the unborn child and will also bring good luck. Tradition in some Arab cultures holds that if the same water is consumed during labor, the pains will be eased.

Seed Dispersal

The plants keep their fruits enclosed and intact when the branches curl inward and dry out during drought. When winter rains make the branches open again, the seed capsules open as well and seed is dispersed.

Name Confusion

According to M. Grieve in "A Modern Herbal," the name "rose," with its many positive associations, has been given to many storied and celebrated plants that are not true roses (genus Rosa). This is the case with the common name of the resurrection plant, rose-of-Jericho.

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