Nogah Hareuveni

“Cursed lemon” is the name the Bedouin long ago gave to this small tree that grows throughout the Dead Sea region. The dry, puffy fruit is full of seeds, as well as fleecy hair that desert dwellers use to fill pillows and mattresses; its sap is poisonous.

Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni, founders of the Museum of Biblical and Talmudic Botany (precursor of Neot Kedumim), identified this tree, the Sodom apple, as the ar’ar of the Bible. Symbolic of the destroyed cities Sodom and Gomorrah, the fruits of this tree, said first-century A.D. historian Josephus, “have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands they dissolve into smoke and ashes” Jewish Wars, Book IV, 8:4).

Only about 10 to 15 feet tall, the ar’ar tree is a mass of dusky, cork-like branches and broad green leaves; it thrives in a landscape that has been desolate since Biblical times.