The Judas Tree
One of the most beautiful trees gracing Malta at the moment is the Judas Tree, a deciduous tree which loses all its foliage during the winter months but bursts back into life through an explosive, colourful and prolific display of pink flowers which sprout from all over its branches even before its new leaves make an appearance. The Judas Tree’s annual display follows in the footsteps of the Almond tree (https://leslievella.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/the-blossoming-almond-tree-the-first-sign-of-an-approaching-spring/) which predates it on the blossom front by around six weeks and acts as the first signal that winter is making its way to spring.
Following this short floral display the tree settles back as a rather plain specimen which does not really stand out, but its short period of fame ensures that almost everyone is aware of its existence and nomenclature. During the autumn it produces vast quantities of seed-pods which hang on its branches until they are ready to fall off to the ground as the tree gears up for its winter sleep.
As a child I was brought up believing the legend that the Judas tree always flowered around the time of the Christian celebration of Good Friday to commemorate the fact that the traitorous Apostle Judas Iscariot hung himself on one of these trees in remorse for having betrayed Jesus to his enemies thereby leading to his crucifixion and death at the hands of the Romans. The tree’s flowers used to be white until this sad event after which they turned pink in shame! This was a dogmatic fact which I had no reason to doubt given the tree’s precise timing to burst into flower just in time for the Easter holidays!
However, it is nowadays believed that rather than being the tree on which Judas Iscariot hung himself, the term Judas tree probably evolved from either one of two sources: either a mistranslation of the French Arbre de Judée or Tree of Judea due to the tree’s proliferation in the Middle East or alternatively because the way its seed pods dangle from the branches is reminiscent of a body hanging from a tree.
Its Latin name is Cercis siliquastrum and it is to be found spread all over Southern Europe and Western Asia. Fossil records show that this tree was already in Malta before the advent of man, making it one of our truly indigenous (native) trees. It was however totally exterminated by land clearance and grazing until it was re-introduced as a cultivated, mostly decorative species to line roads and squares in the previous century. In places such as the Buskett woodland the Judas tree is recognised as having become naturalised, which means that the introduced specimens have fully adapted to and are naturally reproducing in their new environment.
A little tree with a great legend and an even greater spectacle for a few weeks every year. Stop for a few seconds and savour its beauty before another glorious season passes by!