Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti)

Cretan date palm trees growing on river bank
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Cretan date palm fact file

Cretan date palm description

GenusPhoenix (1) (2)

Native to the eastern Mediterranean, the Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) is one of only two palm species endemic to Europe (4). This palm has a stem measuring up to 35 centimetres across (2), and a dense crown of long, spiky leaves, which become a striking silvery blue-green colour once mature (3) (5). These pinnate leaves can reach an impressive two to four metres in length (6), and have numerous forward-pointing leaflets 15 to 20 centimetres long on either side of the central stem (7) (8). The leaf stalks are heavily armed with long, yellow spines that are modified leaflets (2) (6), and when in bloom a mass of pale cream-coloured flowers emerge from among the leaf bases (6).

Also known as
Theophrastus’s date palm.
Height: up to 10 m (3)

Cretan date palm biology

The Cretan date palm is dioecious (6), with male and female flowers on separate plants (8). Pollination may be by wind, although this has not been studied in detail (2). The yellowish-brown fruit produced is around 1.5 centimetres long and contains a single large seed (8).


Cretan date palm range

Eight subpopulations of Cretan date palms are found on the Greek Island of Crete, with the largest containing a few thousand individuals, and four subpopulations occur along the southwest coast of Turkey (1).


Cretan date palm habitat

The Cretan data palm prefers to grow in the damp sandy beds of valleys and temporary streams, but it can also be found on rocky ground. It tends to grow fairly close to the sea, and does not occur above an altitude of 250 metres (1) (4).


Cretan date palm status

The Cretan date palm is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Cretan date palm threats

Evidence indicates that some populations of the Cretan date palm have substantially decreased or disappeared altogether. In the past, this palm was affected by the clearance of land for cultivation, but today, the greatest threats arise from tourism development. Even if the palm populations are not cleared for construction, they can be affected by the associated increased exploitation of underground water (4).


Cretan date palm conservation

The largest subpopulation of the Cretan date palm on Crete is protected under Greek law (1).


Find out more

For more information on the Cretan date palm: 

  • Tutin, T.G., Heywood, V.H., Burges, N.A. and Valentine, D.H. (1980) Flora Europaea: Alismataceae to Orchidaceae Vol 5. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Authenticated (07/06/08) by Dr. John Dransfield, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.



Having male and female flowers on separate plants of the same species.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
In plants, a compound leaf where the leaflets (individual ‘leaves’) are found on either side of the central stalk.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Dransfield, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  3. Tutin, T.G., Heywood, V.H., Burges, N.A. and Valentine, D.H. (1980) Flora Europaea: Alismataceae to Orchidaceae Vol 5. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  4. Johnson, D. (1996) Palms: Their Conservation and Sustained Utilization. IUCN/SSC Palm Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  5. Yucca Do Nursery (April, 2006)
  6. Barrow, S.C. (1998) A monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoidae). Kew Bulletin, 53(3): 513 - 575.
  7. (April, 2006)
  8. Davis, P.H. (1984) Flora of Turkey. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Image credit

Cretan date palm trees growing on river bank  
Cretan date palm trees growing on river bank

© Mike Powles /

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