The Jesse tree is perhaps an Advent Botany blog at a stretch. It is not your classic type of living tree. It was used to show Jesus’s family tree in an age when most were illiterate and royal origins were considered important. Can we work out what type of tree is depicted? In what form does the custom continue today?
The tree of Jesse relates to the following line in the Bible:
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot – yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
(Isaiah 11: Holy Bible. New Living Translation)
This metaphor describes the arrival of the Messiah that Christians interpret as Jesus. Jesse is the father of King David (c. 1000 bce). He united all Israel’s tribes under one monarch. His son Solomon made that rule even stronger. Jesus is seen as their descendant through his mother the Virgin Mary.
Jesse in Art
Christ’s lineage was depicted as a stylised tree in stained glass windows and manuscripts to stress authenticity and royal descent in early Christianity when so much of the population was illiterate. Jesse himself is often depicted as laying down or asleep at the bottom. The stump or trunk appears to grow out of him. Branches and tendrils extend out as the eye progresses up the tree, until Mary and Jesus are reached at the top.
What type of tree?
The trees vary in different artwork. Tendrils suggest a grapevine. Some Jesse trees even bear grapes. An Armenian example more closely resembles a palm tree. The straight trunk or stump suggests the Cross. Mary is sometimes depicted within a flower or rose growing out of the stump. So, while certain elements may resemble a particular botanical species, the totality does not. It is a stylised representation. Of course, now we all talk in terms of detailing our own family ‘trees’.
The Jesse tree has become closely associated with Advent. It works like an Advent calendar. The Jesse tree may even take the shape of a 3D tree and children are encouraged to hang symbols from its branches. Children’s books try to draw focus back to the true meaning of Christmas and highlight Bible stories.
References and Further Reading
Cooper, James (2020-21): The Tradition of the Jesse Tree. WhyChristmas.com
Rylaarsdam, J. Coert (2020): David. King of Israel. Britannica
Wikiwand (2021): Jesse Tree
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.