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Lily of the Field

Anemone coronaria and other wildflowers. Near Ain Auja, Palestine. RanunculaceaeAnemone coronaria and other wildflowers. Near Ain Auja, Palestine. Ranunculaceae

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" Matthew 6: 28-30.

This is certainly one of the better-known verses of the New Testament. Which plants Jesus is referring to is hard to say with certainty. The word translated lily here and in the parallel verses in Luke 12 is krinon. It is unlikely that a true lily, genus Lilium, is intended here because the one species native to the region, Lilium candidum, is quite restricted in its distribution. Rather, a more common plant better known to the populace is implied. This plant has the following characteristics: it must be exceptionally colorful because of the allusion to Solomon's robes. Solomon was the most glorious of all the ancient kings of Israel so, consonant with Semitic literary hyperbole, this king was selected. Second, it likely grows in a place where the vegetation was harvested for burning implying that it would not be an arid region.

Two widespread and beautiful native wildflowers fit the imagery. The first, and in my opinion the most likely, is the crown anemone, Anemone coronaria. This flowers from late winter (February) to early spring (April) in open, sunny areas. Flowers are crimson red with a black center, and leaves are finely dissected and close to the ground. In some populations, the color of the flower may be purple or pink and rarely white. During the dry summer leaves are dried. With the advent of winter rains, the rhizome sends forth new leaves.

The common poppy, Papaver rhoeas, is a second candidate. However, it is an annual. Flowers last only one day (in contrast to the crown anemone) and by afternoon the petals have fallen off (see poppy in the list). While crown anemone and poppy may be found growing together, poppy is more frequent in drier areas. For this reason, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that vegetation would be harvested.

A third possibility is that Jesus is not referring to a specific plant but simply pointing out the beauty of creation and God's care for it.

Anemone coronaria. Lily of the field. Variation in corolla color. Jordan. Ranunculaceae

Anemone coronaria. Lily of the field. Variation in corolla color. Jordan. Ranunculaceae