The aravah may be one of the Salix (willow) genus. Two of the Salix species to be found in Israel are the Salix alba (white willow) and the Salix acmophylla.

The Salix alba is a large deciduous tree growing from between 10 to 30 metres in height, with a trunk diameter of around one metre. Its bark is grey/brown in colour and becomes deeply fissured as the tree grows older. The leaves are a pale white, particularly on its underside and this gives the white willow its name. It flowers from March through to June.  

  White Willow

White Willow (Salix alba) as depicted in Germany. PICTURE: Wikipedia/CC BY-2.5

 

"The aravah was one of the four varieties to be used in the festival of Sukkot. This was commanded in Leviticus 23...It is the Salix alba that is used in the festival of Sukkot today, thus strengthening the identification of the aravah with the willow."

The Salix alba typically grows in ravines, wadis and in oasis. In Israel it is found mostly in the Hula valley, which is a very swampy area and in the Sharon, which is also low lying and flat.

In the NIV the aravah has been translated as the ‘poplar’, however elsewhere the tsaphtsapha is identified as the poplar. So why the confusion? It may be due to the fact that the leaves of the willow and the Populus euphratica (Euphrates poplar) look very similar.  

The aravah was one of the four varieties to be used in the festival of Sukkot. This was commanded in Leviticus 23: 39-41 - "​
So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and aravah (poplars), and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year." 

It is the Salix alba that is used in the festival of Sukkot today, thus strengthening the identification of the aravah with the willow.

In a number of places the aravah is described as a tree which grows near water, whether it be rivers, streams or in a ravine. Such locations fit the Salix alba well:  

• "The lotuses conceal him [the Behemot] in their shadow; the aravah by the stream surround him." - Job 40:22;

• In Isaiah 15:7 it is the name of a location, in this case of a ravine - "So the wealth they have acquired and stored up they carry away over the Ravine of the Aravim (plural of aravah)"; 

• "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like aravah trees by flowing streams." - Isaiah 44: 3-4;

• "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the aravah we hung our harps." - Psalm 137:1-2. 

Excerpt From Alvin Johnson's iBook Biblical Flora, 2017. The book is available for free download on iTunes.