In this article, we want to focus on a curiosity from the world of plants, namely: the Rose of Jericho (or Jericho Rose). One thing not everyone knows is that there are two plants known by this name, a true one and a false one. Given the vast misinformation on this topic found on the internet, we have decided to clarify things. In this article, we identify and explain the characteristics and differences of these two plants. Additionally, using the false Rose of Jericho (the one that is commonly found in commerce, just to clarify), we have conducted a small experiment regarding its behavior under certain conditions. A particular characteristic of this plant is its “resurrection after death”.
To showcase this strange event, we have carried out a photo shoot, which we believe you will find very interesting.
The True Rose of Jericho – Characteristics
The true Rose of Jericho (Anastatica hierochuntica) is a plant native to the Middle East. It is the only species of the Anastatica genus in the extensive family of Brassicaceae.
It is historically known as the plant of resurrection. The root of its name, “anastasis-revivescence”, precisely recalls the characteristics of the plant. This plant dies during the dry season and is reborn with the first rains. For this reason, it is widespread in desert areas of North Africa and the Middle East, in arid countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Arabia.
The true Rose of Jericho is a very small plant with a single root that can grow up to 20 cm long. Many branches emanate from the root, all close to the ground.
The plant has very few small, grayish leaves. Inside the plant, tiny flowers are held, from which the seeds develop.
The Life Cycle of the Anastatica hierochuntica
The annual life cycle of a Rose of Jericho concludes at the end of the rainy season. With the drought, the plant dehydrates and folds its branches into a compact spheroid mass. In this way, the seeds are protected and do not disperse during the plant’s long journeys carried by the wind, which uproots it from the ground with its force.
Its seeds are dormant and remain viable for many years. As soon as the plant comes into contact with water, the branches open, and the seeds are dispersed thanks to the action of heavy rain. They manage to sprout within a few hours, giving life to new Roses of Jericho. It is in this sense that we can speak of the resurrection of the plant.
As mentioned, the Rose of Jericho has an annual cycle. At the beginning of the dry season, it dies and opens up when wetted by the rain only to disperse the seeds and generate new plants.
In the video below, you can observe this interesting process in time lapse. It is truly fascinating to see the plant come back to life and give birth to new life from its state of dehydration (watch the video).
The Legend of the Rose of Jericho
The legend of the Rose of Jericho probably originates from a biblical citation. More specifically, it is a passage from Ecclesiasticus (24:18) in praise of wisdom: “I was exalted like a palm tree in Engaddi and as a rose plant in Jericho…” which means: “I was exalted like a palm tree in Engaddi, and as a rose plant in Jericho…”
From here comes the myth, but also the confusion. The roses mentioned in this passage probably refer to the common rose.
The true plant was brought to Europe by the Crusaders.
Already in its native lands, this plant was attributed with therapeutic properties related to the female reproductive sphere. The plant also has a strong connection with religious beliefs.
As Alessandra Gasparroni writes in her book La Rosa di Gerico–Tratti di un’indagine fito-magico-religiosa dalla tradizione ai nuovi contesti (The Rose of Jericho – Features of a phyto-magical-religious investigation from tradition to new contexts): “the plant that in Europe most vigorously assumes magical values is here inserted in a context of the Christian tradition that associates St. Anne, the mother of Mary, with women in labor”. In some areas, it is indeed a popular custom to bring dried Roses of Jericho to the homes of women in labor, believing that their “miraculous” opening can magically facilitate childbirth.
Legends about the False Rose of Jericho
Today, mistakenly, for commercial purposes, another plant is sold as the Rose of Jericho: Selaginella lepidophylla, which is an entirely different species. There are several websites that, perhaps due to carelessness or easy profit, commit this error (whether intentionally or not).
Some stories associated with this second plant are also related to religion, particularly to the Virgin Mary. However, these seem to be stories almost created for commercial purposes and do not have official bibliographic evidence. One of the most widespread legends is that the Virgin Mary made the plant immortal because she quenched her thirst with it on her way to Nazareth. Of course, it could be objected that the false Rose of Jericho is native to the Mexican desert…
The False Rose of Jericho – What is it Really?
The false Rose of Jericho, Selaginella lepidophylla, grows in the desert (not to be confused with the desert rose). It originates from Chihuahua, between the United States and Mexico, and belongs to the Selaginaceae family. This plant is also known as the plant of resurrection or, in Anglo-Saxon countries, “resurrection fern”.
More than a rose, it can be described as a fern that has adapted to desert life. It can indeed survive prolonged drought conditions. During the dry period, the plant curls up into a kind of ball and enters a dormant state. When it comes into contact with water again, it revives, regaining its moisture and reconstituting chlorophyll, turning green again.
Legends associated with this plant blend with those of the true Rose of Jericho. The confusion probably arises due to commercial requirements related to its diffusion. The plant is often purchased out of curiosity to observe its (undoubtedly surprising) “resurrection”.
To show you this, we have created a brief photographic report that we illustrate below.
The Opening of the Selaginella lepidophylla
The false Rose of Jericho is sold dry and closed.
Simply place it in a slightly concave plate and add a little water. For complete opening, it is best that during this process, the plant is exposed to light but not direct sunlight.
After just a few minutes of contact with water, its rehydration process begins. Shortly after, the first branches begin to expand.
This process continues at a certain speed, and after about half an hour, the false Rose of Jericho is already almost fully open.
After a few hours, the plant is completely open and starts to assume a livelier color. Once this is done, it will remain open as long as it has water available.
The photo sequence demonstrates the high capacity of the false Rose of Jericho to regenerate at the simple contact with water. However, the opening and closing operation cannot be repeated indefinitely. After a certain number of times, the plant will no longer revive.
If grown in the ground, its growth will be more balanced. We recommend using a soil mix composed of peat, moss, and sphagnum, crushed and mixed in equal parts, to plant it. The mix should ensure good drainage, maintaining a certain level of moisture. Of course, without water stagnation, to avoid the onset of molds, a frequent problem in this plant.
This plant can be multiplied by cuttings in the spring, by separating the part with the attached root. This should be buried at a depth of one centimeter. The soil mix to be used is the same as for an adult plant.
If you want to purchase the false Rose of Jericho online, you can find it here. It is a very unique plant, and when it opens and comes back to life from a completely dry state right before your eyes, you will find it hard to believe.
- University of Wisconsin: “Rose of Jericho, and other stories = Berättelser – UWDC” – This resource provides a collection of stories that includes a mention of the Rose of Jericho, though it does not specify whether it refers to the true or false variety.
- University of Chicago: “Sundry Tenets concerning Vegetables” – This resource discusses the Rose of Jericho that flourishes every year just about Christmas Eve, which is famous in Christian reports. The author, however, expresses some doubt about these reports.