Size: 30.5-36.5 m (100-120 ft) tall
The trunk of the date palm is covered in upward-pointing, overlapping woody leaf bases.The palm leaf has a stout midrib that can reach 6 m (20 ft.) in length, with slender gray-green or bluish green pinnae, ranging from 20-40 cm (8-16 in) in length, emerging from it. Date palms produce inflorescences of up to 10,000 small, fragrant flowers (females are white, males are cream-colored and waxy).The dates are yellow to brown in color, elongated, with a thin to thick skin, a thick, sweet tasting (when ripe) pulp and a single hard, cylindrical stone. Date palms readily grow from seeds, if they and the seedlings are kept continuously moist. The trees take 6-10 years to bear fruit.
Dates can be harvested individually as each becomes ripe, or a whole cluster can be cut off the tree. Dates can dry on the tree or be laid out and sun-dried. They are sometime stored in earthen jars and can be rehydrated by boiling if they get too dry.
Dates pass through four stages of ripening:
- Kimri (first 17 weeks): when they are still green, hard, moist, and bitter
- Khalal (next 6 weeks): full-grown, hard, yellow to red, sweeter
- Rutab (next 4 weeks): half-ripe, softened, light brown, sweeter
- Tamar (last 2 weeks): ripe, soft, sweetest
Humans eat the date fruit, cooked young leaves, terminal bud or heart (killing the tree), and roasted and ground seeds.The sweet sap can be converted to sugar, molasses or beverages.
The date fruit, in various forms, is administered for gastrointestinal maladies, sore throat, colds, bronchial catarrh, fever, cystitis, gonorrhea, edema, liver and abdominal problems. A paste made from the seed powder is administered to relieve ague. Gum from a trunk is said to be an effective treatment for diarrhea and genito-urinary complaints. It is both a diuretic and a demulcent. Toothache is treated with date roots and the pollen yields an estrogen that may affect humans.
Date fruits are fed to camels, horses, and dogs in the Saharan Desert and Arabia. Soaked date seeds are fed to horses, cattle, camels, sheep and goats. Ground date seeds are fed to chickens.
The date palm wood is used for construction, to make boats, and as fuel. The leaves can be made into baskets, screens, fans, crates, and huts. Leaf petioles are made into brooms, fishing floats, walking sticks, and fuel. Leaf sheaths are aromatic and their fibers are utilized in the manufacture of rope, coarse cloth, hats, and packsaddles. Brooms are made from stripped fruit clusters. Seeds are drilled and strung as beads, and charcoal made from the seeds is used by silversmiths.
It is thought that the date palm originated around the Persian Gulf, but its ancient wild distribution is not clearly understood. The oldest archaeological finds of most probably wild date pits were found in sites in Iran, Egypt and Pakistan dating to 6000-5000 BCE. There is archaeological evidence that it was cultivated during the Bronze Age at Eridu, Lower Mesopotamia, (Iraq), circa 4000 BCE. In southeastern Arabia, by 2500 BCE, the date palm was the chief agricultural product. At the same time and later, Akkadian and Sumerian cuneiform tablets mention this fruit. It is known to have been cultivated in Pakistan by 2000 BCE. Alexander the Great’s soldiers may have contributed to the expansion of the date’s geographic range in the 4th century BCE, as did the spread of Islam in the 8th century CE.
The date palm is the single plant that appears in petroglyphs in Saudi Arabia, and then only in the more recent scenes that also show camels and horses. The palm trees are typically depicted in groups, probably representing an oasis.Their importance is probably two-fold, and as an important nutritional resource for people and their herds, and as an indication of a nearby oasis.
The date palm will only grow in direct sunlight and requires a warm climate where the temperature rarely dips below 7º C. (20º F). For flowering and fruit production, it requires a mean temperature above 17.8ºC (64º F).The date palm will grow in a variety of soils, from sand to heavier sediment, but requires adequate drainage and aeration.It is tolerant of considerably alkalinity and moderate salinity, as well as long periods of drought.
Today, as a cultivar, the date palm is grown in Arabia, the Near East, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Southwest Asia, China, the New World, and Australia.Saudi Arabia produces over half a ton of fruit per annum.
Morton, Julia F.
1987. Fruits of Warm Climates.Published by J. F. Morton, Miami, FL.