Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti)

Also known as: Theophrastus’s date palm
GenusPhoenix (1) (2)
SizeHeight: up to 10 m (3)

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

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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

For more information on the Cretan date palm: 

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

  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.