Ancient legends add mystery to the wood used in the Crucifixion cross. The mistletoe, holly and dogwood are all believed to be possibilities for this dubious distinction.
At the time of the crucifixion, legends claim the dogwood was a tall, stately, and sturdy tree, much like the noble oak. For these reasons, it was chosen to be the wood for the Crucifixion cross.
When it learned its destiny, the dogwood became greatly distressed at being used for such a cruel purpose. But, Christ recognized the dogwood’s great sorrow and forgave its participation in His death by decreeing the dogwood would never again attain the height to be used as a cross. Instead, it would always be bent and slender.
Its delicate white blossoms in the spring would represent the cross, with two long and two short petals, each with small, reddish-brown indentions like nail prints in the outer edges. The brown color represents the nails used on the cross, and the red, Christ’s blood. The stamens gathered in the center resemble the crown of thorns as a reminder that Christ is king.
Although more commonly associated with the Christmas season, the holly and mistletoe are also credited by some legends with roles in the Crucifixion. One legend claims the holly sprang up beneath Christ’s footsteps as He walked to the crucifixion. Its red berries represent His blood. Other legends claim that the crown of thorns Christ wore on the cross was actually made of holly. Its berries were originally white, but became stained red when the sharp leaves pierced His skin.
The wood of the holly is hard and even-grained, perfect for construction. Unfortunately, it shares the stigma of being used for the Crucifixion cross with the mistletoe and dogwood.
Of the three trees mentioned in legends about the cross, the mistletoe suffered the most severe punishment. It was banished from the earth for its role in Christ’s death. Once a magnificent tree, it could only return to earth as a small, spindly parasite, depending on other trees for its survival.
The redbud tree also shares in the tragic legends of the Easter season. Often referred to as the “Judas tree,” the name comes from the biblical reference that Judas hanged himself on a flowering tree after he betrayed Christ. The redbud flowers during the Easter season and fits that description.
Throughout its lifespan, the redbud remains a lightweight tree with a bonsai-like profile in the landscape. Its branches seldom grow strong enough to support a person's weight. The name, Judas tree, may actually be a mispronunciation for "Judea's tree," another reference to the redbud because it commonly grows in the region of Judea.