Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

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Date palms growing beside river in gorge
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Date palm fact file

Date palm description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassLiliopsida
OrderArecales
FamilyArecaceae
GenusPhoenix (1)

One of the oldest cultivated fruit crops, the date palm has long been harvested for its succulent, fleshy fruit which is a staple food for many people across North Africa and Arabia (3) (4). Incredibly, there are many hundreds of varieties of this species, each of which are grown for commercial purposes, perhaps making the date palm the second most familiar palm species after the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) (5). It grows with an imposing, tall, slender, straight trunk, which has a spiralling pattern on the bark, with long, feather-like leaves, which are greenish-grey in colour and have spines on the lower third of the stem (1) (2) (5) (6). On the upper part of the crown, the leaves stand pointing upwards, but on the lower part, the leaves curve towards the ground (3). The leaves are rigid, long and pointed, with as many as 200 leaflets growing on each side of the stem (2) (3). Unusually for a palm, the date palm may have two or three crowns, although it typically has just one. The flowers are clustered into elongated, sheathed inflorescences borne on separate male and female plants. The male inflorescence is white and fragrant, and the female inflorescence is smaller, and more yellowish or cream in colour (1). The sugar-rich fruit, which is commonly known as a date, is a large, oblong berry that is dark orange when ripe, and may grow up to 50 centimetres in length on some cultivated varieties (3)

Synonyms
Palma dactylifera, Palma major, Phoenix atlantica var. maroccana, Phoenix chevalieri, Phoenix excelsior, Phoenix iberica, Phoenix major.
Size
Height: up to 30 m (2)
Trunk diameter: up to 50 cm (2)
Leaf length: up to 5 m (2)
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Date palm biology

Largely restricted to plantations, today reproduction in the date palm is largely artificial. The ratio of female to male plants in such plantations is often as much as 50 to 1, and pollen grains are collected from male plants and transferred by hand or blown by spray machines onto female plants. Natural pollination is achieved with the aid of insects or the wind, with the fruits taking six to eight months to ripen (1). The date palm begins to bear fruit at three to five years of age, becoming fully mature at 12 years (6).

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Date palm range

The date palm is native to North Africa and the Middle East, but today this commercially-important tree is also cultivated in western and southern Asia, including parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (2) (3). It has also been introduced to the Canary Islands, the northern Mediterranean and southern United States (3).

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Date palm habitat

In its native range, the date palm grows across a nearly rainless belt in the Sahara region and southern regions of the Middle East (6). This hardy palm, however, will grow almost anywhere provided the soil is fertile and well drained, with plenty of exposure to the sun (3) (5). It is also relatively tolerant of salt and so can be planted in coastal regions (5).

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Date palm status

This species has not yet been classified by the IUCN.

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Date palm threats

The date palm is one of the best adapted tree species to growing in desert regions and, as a result of this, it has long been cultivated for its fruits, and for its wood and leaves which provide timber and fabric for houses and fences (4) (6). It is an important source of food for communities living around oases and, as such, has been cultivated since around 4,000 BC (6), with more than 600 varieties existing today (4). Wild populations probably only remain in Jordan and along the Iran-Iraq border, but hybridisation with cultivated varieties makes the distinction of wild forms difficult (6). As a result of its popularity and commercial importance, there is no immediate threat to the species’ survival, although it is in danger of losing genetic diversity due to some varieties being favoured over others (4).

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Date palm conservation

The date palm has not been the target of any known conservation measures. Many cultivated varieties, however, are stored in nurseries across the world which aim to maintain a record of the species’ genetic diversity (4).

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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Find out more

For more information on tree conservation, see: 

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Genetic diversity
The variety of genes within a particular species, population or breed causing differences in morphology, physiology and behaviour.
Hybridisation
Cross-breeding between two different species or subspecies.
Inflorescence
The reproductive shoot of a plant, which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
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References

  1. Rieger, M. (2006) Introduction to Fruit Crops. Food Products Press, Binghamton, US. 
  2. Henderson, A. (2009) Palms of Southern Asia. Princeton Field Guides, New Jersey.
  3. Università di Catania Dipartimento di Botanica (October, 2010)
    http://www.dipbot.unict.it/Palms/descr02.html
  4. Rhouma, S. et al. (2010) Genetic variation in the Tunisian date palm (Pheonix dactylifera L.). In: Ramawat, K.G. (Ed.) Desert Plants: Biology and Biotechnology. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
  5. Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia (October, 2010)
    http://www.pacsoa.org.au/palms/Phoenix/dactylifera.html
  6. UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences (October, 2010)
    http://www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/GEPTS/pb143/CROP/DATE/date.htm
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Image credit

Date palms growing beside river in gorge  
Date palms growing beside river in gorge

© Chris & Tilde Stuart / www.flpa-images.co.uk

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