[Originally published as What Are Grasses, Herbs, and Trees]
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, [and] the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed [is] in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. Genesis 1:11
There are many ways that mankind can classify or group plants together. However, within the creation account, there are three major types of plants given: grasses, herbs, and trees. At first glance, this may not seem significant, but each of these types of plants has unique characteristics which demonstrate the great planning of our Creator and distinguish one from another.
The Hebrew word for grass is deshe from the root word meaning ‘to sprout’. This name aptly fits as grasses are constantly sprouting and are among the most abundant plants on earth.
Grasses are unique because the portion that grows is not located at the tip, but rather at the base of the plant just below ground level. This makes it resilient against cutting, grazing, and even fire. Immediately after being cut, eaten, or burned down to ground level, it begins sprouting again. Because of this unique feature, it is able to feed huge numbers of animals including cattle, insects, and birds as well as produce grain for man.
Members of this vast family include the grass in our lawns, cereal and bread grains, and even building materials like bamboo (the largest of the grasses). Also, in comparison to other plants, they have segmented and hollow compartments in the stem which makes them lightweight but strong.
The Hebrew word for herb is eseb. Herbs include all the plants with a soft stem, or more technically, those with the xylem and phloem (tubes that carry nutrients up and down from the roots) spread throughout the stem rather than limited to the outside edge.
These plants can be small vegetables, ferns, ornamental flowers, bigger plants like bananas, and even the tough coconut palms. Their food can be abundant, especially in warmer climates where these plants grow all year and can become large in size. In colder climates, the food resources become more limited as they often wilt down to the root each autumn and only sometimes grow again the following year.
The Hebrew word for tree is etz. The trees are the largest of the plants and can also provide abundant food and building material. Trees are designed with the xylem and phloem tubes located just under the bark and produce a new layer each year. This not only allows the tree to grow large in diameter and height but also enables the tree to withstand cold weather by going dormant each winter season. Furthermore, it is the great forests circling the earth, from the equator to almost near the poles, that produce abundant oxygen for the entire planet.