New Year of the Trees – VI. Ficus Carica

Ficus Carica is the genus and species of the common fig. When I was preparing to write this poem, I read a lot about the lifecycle of figs, the culture and history of figs, etc. They are fascinating! The fig is a synconium containing drupelets, further tying this all together. A note about figs, with concepts related to this stanza in boldface:

Ficus carica is a … deciduous tree or large shrub, growing to a height of 7–10 metres (23–33 ft), with smooth white bark. Its fragrant leaves are 12–25 centimetres (4.7–9.8 in) long and 10–18 centimetres (3.9–7.1 in) across, and deeply lobed with three or five lobes. The complex inflorescence consists of a hollow fleshy structure called the syconium, which is lined with numerous unisexual flowers. The flowers themselves are not visible from outside the syconium, as they bloom inside the infructescence. Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the infructescence or scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne. It is a hollow-ended stem containing many flowers. The small orifice (ostiole) visible on the middle of the fruit is a narrow passage, which allows the specialized fig wasp Blastophaga psenes to enter the fruit and pollinate the flower, whereafter the fruit grows seeds.

The edible fruit consists of the mature syconium containing numerous one-seeded fruits (drupelets)….

The plant can tolerate seasonal drought, and the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climate is especially suitable for the plant. Situated in a favorable habitat, old specimens when mature can reach a considerable size and form a large dense shade tree. Its aggressive root system precludes its use in many urban areas of cities, but in nature helps the plant to take root in the most inhospitable areas. The common fig tree is mostly a phreatophyte that lives in areas with standing or running water. It grows well in the valleys of the rivers and ravines saving no water, having strong need of water that is extracted from the ground. The deep-rooted plant searches groundwater, in aquifers, ravines, or cracks in the rocks. The fig tree, with the water, cools the environment in hot places, creating a fresh and pleasant habitat for many animals that take shelter in its shade in the times of intense heat. – wikipedia

In the creation account, Adam and Eve used the fig leaf to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Christ ultimately covers us – hiding a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

In this stanza, Isaiah 53 is ‘rewritten’ in part, with Christ portrayed as the fig tree that covers us.

If this stanza were to be rewritten in simple language, it would be this: We are covered, sheltered, guided, and preserved by Christ. He is the stem of the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). He is the Messiah of Isaiah 53. Where there “is no beauty that we should desire him,” he is the magnificent Redeemer, Intercessor, and Shield. He is the creator of heaven and earth under the direction of the Father (Hebrews 1:2). His mighty arm, evident in the Passover, also hovers or guards us always (linguistic connection discussed below).

As the chiasm outline for this poem stated for this stanza: “And yet we are covered.”

ficus carica draft

A page of work on Ficus Carica. Evident here is reference to Islamic tradition with “At-tin – the fig” and “by the fig and the olive;” alternative translations related to passover, including “hover/cover;” the Isaiah 53 references which are central to this stanza; fig biology (such as “phreatophytic” – and even more importantly, tying figs to Isaiah 53 such as “synconium, the flower of fig, unseen”); brainstorming about what humans have obtained from fig trees (water, shade, food, covering); Old Testament concepts like shadow, pillar, wandering for 40 years, become of dust a living soul, waters that softly go, and “all the firstborn of my children I will redeem;” and references to New Testament concepts related to Christ, such as “it is good for us to be here.” This is a page of ideas that were synthesized into this stanza.


Some terms and their use/meaning in the stanza:

“By fig and olive” – The introduction to this stanza comes from the Quran’s Sūrah at-Tīnby fig and olive“:

By the fig and the olive

And [by] Mount Sinai

And [by] this secure city [Makkah],

We have certainly created man in the best of stature;

Then We return him to the lowest of the low,

Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted.

So what yet causes you to deny the Recompense?

Is not Allah the most just of judges? – Quran

A fascinating commentary on “fig and olive” and subsequent language in the following 2 lines above, from wikipedia:

The “fig” and the “olive” symbolize, in this context, the lands in which these trees predominate: i.e., the countries bordering on the eastern part of the Mediterranean, especially Palestine and Syria. As it was in these lands that most of the Abrahamic prophets mentioned in the Qur’an lived and preached, these two species of tree may be taken as metonyms for the religious teachings voiced by the long line of those God-inspired men, culminating in the person of the last Judaic prophet, Jesus. “Mount Sinai”, on the other hand, stresses specifically the apostleship of Moses, inasmuch as the religious law valid before, and up to, the advent of Muhammad—and in its essentials binding on Jesus as well—was revealed to Moses on a mountain of the Sinai Desert. Finally, “this land secure” signifies undoubtedly (as is evident from 2:126) Mecca, where Muhammad, the Last Prophet, was born and received his divine call.

— Muhammad Asad, The Message of The Quran

The Sūrah at-Tīn also discusses that humans were made “in the best of stature:”

The cosmology of the Qur’an states that God made mankind out of clay. This sura suggests not only this, but that the mould which God used for man was “the best possible”. The lowness of the clay has set humanity apart from God; because clay is heavier and more solid than fire, from which the Jinn were made, or light, from which the angels came. – wikipedia

This imagery of “the mould” used to form/create humans from “clay” also shows in this stanza.

“cloud and pillar”Exodus 13:21-22:

21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:

22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Covered and sheltered, led and guided, nurtured and fed. The extension of the Passover story, including guidance and shelter in the journey. Note below the description of the word “phreatophyte” and consider living water in the wilderness.

“shielded, sheltered, covered, made anew and slaked and sated under fragrant canopy” – As described above (and importantly below in the description of the phreatophyte) – the fig tree offers these values and traits – as does the Messiah.

Shielded: The Messiah is the shield: “Surely he hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows.” – Isaiah 53.  Also, the shadow and the pillar – Exodus 13:21-22

Sheltered: The Messiah is the source of shelter: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalms 23:4. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” – Isaiah 9:2 “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” – Isaiah 40:12 Also, again, the shadow and the pillar – Exodus 13:21-22

Covered: We are covered by the Messiah: “Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.”2 Nephi 2:9

Made anew:  We are refreshed through the Messiah. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18 

Slaked: The Messiah quenches the deepest thirst. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” – John 4:14 “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” – Isaiah 58:11 “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” – Revelations 7:17

Sated: The Messiah satisfies the most profound hunger. In addition to the verses under “slaked” that also describe hunger (Like Isaiah 58 and Revelations 7), there are these: “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.” – Jeremiah 31:25 “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35  “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” – Matthew 7:8-11

Canopy: The Messiah offers peaceful shelter. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.” – Revelations 7:16 Also, again, the shadow and the pillar – Exodus 13:21-22

“Phreatophytic root from dry ground” – This ties together fig tree biology (“phreatophytic root” in dry ground), Isaiah 53 (“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground“) and the prophesy of the stem of the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).

What is a phreatophyte?

A phreatophyte is a deep-rooted plant that obtains a significant portion of the water that it needs from the phreatic zone (zone of saturation) or the capillary fringe above the phreatic zone…

These plants have very deep roots that are able to reach the water table…

They are plants of great ecological value, fast growing pioneers and highly resistant to disease. They make excellent fodder for livestock and provide nesting areas and shelter for fauna…. Many of the plants grow in degraded waters, salty or saline, that are useless for agriculture. Phreatophyte plants help to purify these waters and their roots fix heavy metals with a bacterial filter….

Phreatophytes are indicators of potable groundwater. – Wikipedia

So a phreatophyte shows where the living or potable water is, is able to purify and detoxify, provides shelter including where sheep may safely graze, and are hardy pioneers.

And what is the phreatic zone?

The phreatic zone, or zone of saturation, is the area in an aquifer, below the water table, in which relatively all pores and fractures are saturated with water. – wikipedia

Christ is the “phreatophytic root from dry ground.”

“flower rarest of the rare” – This idiom connects the fig to the Messiah – the rarest of the rare – and to Isaiah 53, where there was no beauty to be desired:

Since the flower is invisible, there are various idioms related to it in languages around the world. In a Bengali idiom as used in tumi yēna ḍumurēr phul hay.ē gēlē (তুমি যেন ডুমুরের ফুল হয়ে গেলে), i.e., ‘you have become (invisible like) the fig flower (doomurer phool)’. There is a Hindi idiom related to flower of fig tree, गूलर का फूल (gūlar kā phūl i.e. flower of fig) means something that just would not ever see i.e. rare of the rarest. wikipedia

“synconium conceals the fruit where form and comeliness forbear” – This again links Isaiah 53 with the Ficus Carica (fig) and with the Messiah.

In Isaiah 53, we learn this of the Messiah:

2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

His beauty and his glory would not be immediately and physically evident at his first coming into the world.

In the fig, the flowers are not visible – as noted above, the Ficus Carica synconium conceals the flowers within. “There is no beauty that we should desire him.”

“Ex ordinarium extraordinarium” – I don’t think this is real or accurate Latin grammar – but: out of or from the ordinary, the extraordinary. I love this idea. This is consistent with the spirit of Isaiah 53 – “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him…. the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed”

“Breath of life and desert sand mixed to paste, as clay to mould / veiled in flesh “ – This references the creation story of the Hebrew Bible and of the Quran.

From the Hebrew Bible, we have (Genesis 2:7):

7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

From the Quran 3:59:

Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was.

The “mould” and “clay” reference the Sūrah at-Tīn, which discusses that humans were made “in the best of stature:”

The cosmology of the Qur’an states that God made mankind out of clay. This sura suggests not only this, but that the mould which God used for man was “the best possible”. The lowness of the clay has set humanity apart from God; because clay is heavier and more solid than fire, from which the Jinn were made, or light, from which the angels came. – wikipedia

of hov’ring hand” – This was one of my favorite discoveries in writing this stanza, and probably even in writing this poem. It turns out, there is a translation question regarding the word “passover.” This poem is deeply tied to the Passover and to deliverance. Interestingly, the Lord might not have been “passing over,” but “hovering/guarding,” per this note (boldface added):

The verb “pasàch” (פָּסַח) is first mentioned in the Torah’s account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and there is some debate about its exact meaning: the commonly held assumption that it means “He passed over” (פסח), in reference to God “passing over” (or “skipping”) the houses of the Hebrews during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (παρελευσεται in Exodus 12:23, and εσκεπασεν in Exodus 12:27). Targum Onkelos translates pesach as וְיֵחוֹס “he had pity” coming from the Hebrew root ‘חסה’ meaning to have pity.

Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be “he hovered over, guarding.” Indeed, this is the image invoked by the verb in Isaiah 31:5: “As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over” (כְּצִפֳּרִים עָפוֹת – כֵּן יָגֵן יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; גָּנוֹן וְהִצִּיל, פָּסֹחַ וְהִמְלִיט.) (Isaiah 31:5) Both meanings become apparent in Exodus 12:23 when parsed as: the Lord will pass (hover, guard) over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer (destroying angel is commanded to pass by the children of Israel) to come in unto your houses to smite. – wikipedia

to make of dust a living soul” – described above in the section regarding “Breath of life and desert sand mixed to paste, as clay to mould / veiled in flesh “

I will add here, though, the unique theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

15 And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15)

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that the soul comprises the union of body and spirit. “Breath of life and desert sand mixed to paste, as clay to mould/ veiled in flesh of hov’ring hand to make of dust a living soul.”



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Jump to any part of the annotation here (including directly to the stanza by stanza descriptions):

  1. The conceptual outline of the poem, generally
  2. The basic layout, in reference to the concept of the jubilee.
  3. The use of the word “selah”
  4. The sets of sevens
  5. A stanza by stanza review of some of what it all meansLinks to the stanzas for their individual “behind the scenes”:

    I. Modus Operandi

    II. Chadash

    III. Clingstone

    IV. Shiv’at HaMinim

    V. Drupelet

    VI. Ficus Carica

    VII. QED