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Myrtus communis. Myrtle. Near Tel Dan, Israel. Myrtaceae

The myrtle, Myrtus communis, is an attractive shrub. It has evergreen leaves and under optimum conditions grows to a height of about 24 feet. The fragrant, small, white flowers are produced in the middle of the summer. The fruit is a small, black berry, resembling a blueberry and is edible but seldom eaten. The entire plant contains a fragrant oil. Like so many other Bible plants, the myrtle is the only representative of its family in Israel. The eucalyptus, native to Australia and widely planted in the Middle East is in the same family.

At present, myrtle is restricted in its distribution to wetter areas in the Mediterranean region of the Middle East. Because the myrtle is attractive and easily cultivated it is widely planted as an ornamental shrub.

The myrtle is not mentioned in the Bible until the time of the captivity. The first reference is in Nehemiah 8:15 in regard to the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. " . . . and they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: 'Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths as it is written.' " Interestingly, the myrtle is not expressly mentioned in Leviticus 23: 37-40 that governs the Feast of Tabernacles.

The references in Isaiah (Isaiah 41:19 and 55:13) refer to the divine establishment of the people in the land in subjection to Jehovah. As an evergreen, fragrant shrub associated with watercourses, the myrtle is a fitting symbol of the recovery and establishment of God's promises.

Zechariah 1:8-11 pictures a man standing in a ravine among myrtle trees apparently enjoying their humble beauty and fragrance. This is a good example of Bible ecology as a ravine or other watercourse is the habitat of the myrtle.