(אַבַיּוֹנָה, abiyonah', from אָבָה, to desire Sept. κάππαρις) is mentioned only once in the Bible (Ec 12:5): "When the almond-tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his long home." The word here translated desire has been considered to signify the CAPER-berry. The reasons assigned for this opinion are that the rabbins apply the plural , (אִביוֹנוֹת, abyonoth': see Berachoth, 36:1) to the small fruit of trees and berries, as well as to that of the caper-bush (Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. col. 12); that the caper-bush is common in Syria and Arabia (see Galen, Facult. Alim. 2:34); that its fruit was in early times eaten as a condiment, being stimulating in its nature, and therefore calculated to excite desire (Plutarch, Qupest. Syssp. 6:2; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 13:23; 20:15; comp. 13:44; 20:59; Dioscor. 2:204); that as the caper-bush grows on tombs, it will be liable to be destroyed when 'these are opened; and, finally, that as Solomon speaks here in symbols and allegories, we must suppose him to deviate from the course he had apparently prescribed to himself if he were to express in plain words that "desire shall fail," instead of intimating the same thing by the failure of that which is supposed to have been used to excite desire. Celsius (Hierobot. 1:210) argues, on the contrary, that Solomon in other places, when treating of the pleasures of youth, never speaks of capers, but of wine and perfumes, that, had he wished to adduce anything of the kind, he would have selected something more remarkable; that capers, moreover, instead of being pleasantly stimulant, are acrid and hurtful; and though occasionally employed by the ancients as condiments, were little esteemed by them; and, finally, that the word abiyosloth of the rabbins is distinct from the abiyonah of this passage, as is admitted even by Ursinus (Arboret. Biblicum, 28:1). The caper-plant, however, is often mentioned in the Talmud (Maaseroth, 4:6; Demai, 1:1) by the terms צלִפ, tselaph', נַעפָה, nitsphah', and even קִפרַיס, kaphris' (Buxtorf. col. 1919,1381, 2098). But as the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the' Syriac, and the Arabic translations have understood the caper-bush to be meant, it is desirable to give some 'account of it, especially as, from its ornamental nature, it' could not but attract attention. There are, moreover, some points in its natural history which have been overlooked, but which may serve to show that in the passage under review it might without impropriety have been employed in carrying out the figurative language with which the verse commences' (see Plenk, Plant. Med. p. 420; Sprengel, list. rei herb. 1:14).
The caper-plant belongs to a tribe of plants, the Capparidacese, of which the species are found in considerable numbers in tropical countries, such as India, whence they extend northward into Arabia, the north of Africa, Syria, and the south of Europe (Forskal, Flor. p. 99; Shaw, p. 395). The common caper-bush — Capparis spinosa, Linn. (the Casativa of Persoon) — is common in the countries immediately surrounding the Mediterranean. Dioscorides describes it as spreading in a circular manner on the ground, in poor soils and rugged situations; and Pliny "as being set and sown in stony places especially." Theophrastus states that it refuses to grow in cultivated ground. Dioscorides farther states that it has thorns like a bramble, leaves like the quince, and fruit like the olive — characters almost sufficient to identify it. The caper is well known to the Arabs, being their kibbur, and designated also by the name athuf or azuf. The bark of the root, which is still used in the East, as it formerly was in Europe, no doubt possesses some irritant property, as it was one of the five aperient roots. The unexpanded flower-buds, preserved in vinegar, are well known at cur tables as a condiment by the name of capers. Parts of the plant seem to have been similarly used by the ancients. The caper-plant is showy and ornamental, growing in barren places in the midst of the rubbish of ruins, or on the walls of buildings. It was observed by Ray on the Temple of Peace aft Rome, and in other similar situations. It forms a much-branched, diffuse shrub, which annually loses its leaves. The branches are long and trailing; smooth, but armed with double curved stipulary spines. The leaves are alternate, roundish or oblong oval, a little fleshy, smooth, of a green color, but sometimes a little reddish. The flowers are large and showy, produced singly in the axils of the leaves, on stalks which are larger than the leaves. The calyx is four-leaved, coriaceous; the petals are also four in number, white, and of an oval roundish form. The stamens are verys numerous and long; and their filaments, being tinged with purple and terminated by the yellow anthers, give the flowers a very agreeable appearance. The ovary is borne upon a straight stalk, which is a little longer than the stamens, and which, as it ripens, droops and forms an oval or pear-shaped berry, inclosing within its pulp numerous small seeds. Many of the caper tribe, being remarkable for the long stalks by which their fruit is supported, conspicuously display, what also takes place in other plants, namely, the drooping and hanging down of the fruit as it ripens. As, then, the flowering of the almond-tree, in the first part of the verse in question, has been supposed to refer to the whitening of the hair, so the drooping of the ripe fruit of a plant like the caper, which is conspicuous on: the walls of buildings and on tombs, may be supposed to typify the hanging down of the head before "man goeth to his long home" (see the Penny Cyclopedia, s.v. Capparidaceae). SEE HYSSOP.