The ears of a traitor, JUDAS’S EAR (006)


Sometimes while you are out walking you may think: ”Am I really seeing an ear on the wood of this elder or ash or am I just imagining things?” You are probably then looking at the ear of Judas, the apostle who according to the bible story betrayed Jesus with a kiss in exchange for money. How his ear came to be embedded in the wood of these trees is revealed in this Christian legend rife with remorse. Come closer and listen ….

A few hours after the Last Supper Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in exchange for thirty silver coins. When he saw that Jesus had been taken prisoner and beaten, he regretted his betrayal. He threw away the blood money. The remorse ate away at his heart and he sorrowed over the consequences of his deed. The only solution he could see was to choose to disappear from the face of the earth.

With a strong piece of rope he climbed into the very first tree he came across. This was a willow. Judas knotted the rope to the highest branch and jumped ….The willow groaned under its heavy burden, but did not want part in ending the life of this traitor. The willow bowed down deeply and Judas found himself standing once again on the ground. Since that moment this tree has been known as a weeping willow, the tree which weeps for the death of Jesus.
Judas did not allow himself to be discouraged and climbed into a second tree, an elder. However, the outcasted apostle did not know that the branches of the elder are  rigid and hollow. When he jumped, the branch gave a little, but then snapped quite  quickly and Judas fell heavily out of the elder. Because of his fall his ear was torn to shreads by the bark of the elder.
Dejectedly he walked towards another tree, an ash. “Third time lucky”, thought the traitor to himself. Once again he tied his rope securely to a thick branch in this tree and jumped….The slender but tough branches gave under Judas’s weight, but did not break and so this time Judas achieved the result he desired. But this time his other ear was torn to shreads by the branches he hit as he fell. This is how he lost his second ear.

Ever since then judas’s ears have grown on the wood of the ash and the elder. How do we know this story is true? Take a good look some time at the flesh-coloured fungus. Especially if the sun is shining on it, you can almost see the veins running through it. And if you feel it with your fingers, it is as soft as a human ear.

The judas’s ear, the Auricularia auricular judae, grows on the bark of large living or dead elders growing in deep shadow and on the wood of dead ash trees. It is a jelly fungus, in other words, a fungus with a jelly-like fruit body. If it is dry, then it crumples up to a dark brown fungus, which however will swell up again when it comes in contact with water. When wet it looks like an ear. The judas’s ear is a parasite which lives at the expense of its host. The judas’s ear varies in size from 2 to 10 centimetres and is edible.


© Els Baars,
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Els Baars