Morning names: Norfolk Island Pine, ruach

Thursday, the Norfolk Island pine, which is not a pine and has nothing to do with the English county  or the city in Virginia; then as I went to lunch, I discovered why that particular name might have bubbled up in my mind. Yesterday, the Hebrew term ruach, and I have no clue about where that might have come from.

Norfolk Island pine. From Wikipedia:

Araucaria heterophylla (synonym A. excelsa) is a member of the ancient and now disjointly distributed family Araucariaceae. As its vernacular name Norfolk Island pine implies, the tree is endemic to Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The genus Araucaria occurs across the South Pacific, especially concentrated in New Caledonia (about 700 km due north of Norfolk Island) where 13 closely related and similar-appearing species are found. It is sometimes called a star pine, triangle tree or living Christmas tree, due to its symmetrical shape as a sapling, although it is not a true pine.

The trees grow to a height of 50–65 m, with straight vertical trunks and symmetrical branches, even in the face of incessant onshore winds that can contort most other species.

A stand of trees:


… The cones are squat globose, 10–12 cm long and 12–14 cm diameter, and take about 18 months to mature. They disintegrate at maturity to release the nut-like edible seeds.

Immature cones:


… The first European known to have sighted Norfolk Island was Captain James Cook. In 1774 on his second voyage to the South Pacific in HMS Resolution, Cook noted the presence of large forests of tall, straight trees that appeared to be suitable for use as masts and yards for sailing ships. However, when the island was occupied in 1788 by convicts transported from Britain, it was found that Norfolk Island pine trees were not resilient enough for these uses and the industry was abandoned.

… The distinctive appearance of this tree, with its widely spaced branches and symmetrical, triangular outline, has made it a popular cultivated species, either as a single tree or in avenues. When the tree reaches maturity, the shape may become less symmetrical. Despite the endemic implication of the species name Norfolk Island pine, it is distributed extensively across coastal areas of the world in Mediterranean and humid-subtropical climate regions due to its exotic, pleasing appearance and fairly broad climatic adaptability.

… Young trees are often grown as houseplants in areas where the winters are too cold for them to grow outside (they will not, for example, survive outdoors in most of North America or Europe), and are sometimes used as Christmas trees. It will not survive in areas subject to prolonged cold.

As houseplants:


On Thursday, I went out for lunch and passed by the local very toney yog(h)urt shop, Fraiche Yogurt, on Hamilton Ave. at Emerson St., which describes itself as a “sleek cafe for organic, European-style fresh & frozen yogurt served with fruit & other toppings”. And by the front door there was a lovely Norfolk Island pine serving as a Christmas tree. I must have noticed it, without attending to it, going to lunch the day before, and then the name bubbled up in my sleep.

The genus Araucaria has come up on this blog before, in a posting about the species Araucaria araucana (commonly called the monkey puzzle tree), native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina. It’s a long way from there to Norfoilk Island.

ruach. All I can do here is quote Wikipedia; I know very little about the conceptual schemes of Judaism:

The Holy Spirit in Judaism generally refers to the divine aspect of prophecy and wisdom. It also refers to the divine force, quality, and influence of God Most High (Hebrew El Elyon) over the universe or over God’s creatures, in given contexts.

The Hebrew language phrase ruach ha-kodesh (Hebrew: רוח הקודש, “holy spirit” also transliterated ruaḥ ha-qodesh) is used in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and Jewish writings to refer to the spirit of YHWH (רוח יהוה). It literally means “the spirit of holiness.” The Hebrew terms ruacḥ qodshekha, “thy holy spirit” (רוּחַ קָדְשְׁךָ), and ruacḥ qodshō, “his holy spirit” (רוּחַ קָדְשׁ֑וֹ) also occur.

I must have heard the term in prayers, somewhere, sometime.

3 Responses to “Morning names: Norfolk Island Pine, ruach”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From John Lawler on Facebook, about ruach:

    I think רוח actually means ‘wind’. I remember noticing the funny spelling when I was learning what little Hebrew I know. ‘Spirit’ must be the usual breath (i.e, language) metaphor.

  2. Julian Lander Says:

    My scholarly dictionary gives “breath, wind, spirit,” but does not provide etymological information or cognates from other Semitic languages. It notes that “breath” here is associated with the notion of living (if you’re not breathing, you’re not living). In Genesis 1:2, the spirit (ruach) of God hovers over the surface of the waters. There are other terms used for the divine presence, and I don’t think this is particularly common in liturgical use.

  3. Bruce and Dixie Gladstone Gladstone Says:

    lovely and informative article thank you, I just got a live Norfolk pine for my Christmas tree this year! I love it!

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