550 Phoenix dactyliferaCommon Names: date palm Family: Arecacea (palm Family)
Although there are many palms that we call "date palms"; pygmy date palm(Phoenix roebelenii), Senegal date palm (Phoenix reclinata), Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) are just a few. However the "true" date palm from which the tasty fruit is obtained is Phoenix dactylifera which is a multi-stemmed palm from which the suckers are usually removed to create single stemmed specimens. Trimmed in this manner the date palm will grow to heights of 100 ft (45.7 m). The broad gray trunk is patterned with diamond-shaped leaf scars and is up to 16 inches in diameter. The large greenish or bluish gray pinnate leaves are typically 18-20 ft (5.5-6.1 m) long by 2 ft (0.6 m) wide. They are arranged in a thick canopy up to 40 feet wide. Leaflets are 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) long and arranged in V-shape ranks that run the length of the leafstem. Leaflets near the base are modified into sharp 3-4 in (7.6-10.2 cm) spines.
The yellow orange to red fruit, called 'dates', are oblong and about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) in length. They consist of a large pointed seed surrounded by sweet sugary flesh. Dates are formed from flowers on 4 ft (1.2 m) inflorescences that emerge from among the leaves in spring. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants. Only female plants produce dates and only if a male tree is nearby. Dates are not formed in climates that are too cool. When grown in humid tropical climates like Florida, the fruit tends to be of low quality often dropping from the tree before ripening.
The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, is native to North Africa - exactly where is indeterminable. The date palm was one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. The people of North Africa and the Middle East have depended on dates as a food source for thousands of years. During this long interval, man has constantly selected those trees that produced the finest fruit. Today there are many distinct varieties grown commercially in Iraq, Israel, and North Africa. Commercial date groves are also found in the U.S. mainly in southern California and Arizona. Also a popular ornamental, the date palm graces landscapes from Florida to Texas, in the warm dry climates of the southwest from Arizona and California to Nevada and anywhere freezing temperatures are non-existent or of brief duration. The various Phoenix palm species hybridize with one another easily so individuals may show a mix of species characteristics.
CultureNot particular about soil and will even grow in poor soils. Prune suckers annually to create single trunk specimens. Light: Bright sun. Moisture: Although a drought resistant desert plant, the date palm has deep roots that typically seek out subterranean water sources. Provide regular irrigation for best look and faster growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Zone 8 palm enthusiast grow them in sheltered location but occasional freeze damage to foliage can be expected. Propagation: By seed. Suckers can be separated (with effort) to start new plants.
This is a spectacular palm for landscaping large areas. In recent years many commercial date farms in the western U.S. have closed due to a number of economic pressures. As a result large specimens are available at very competitive prices, even when shipped to Florida. As I write this, a half dozen date palms were installed at the entrance to a new local office complex which I think makes the otherwise undistinguished corporate architecture handsome and interesting. Date palms are also frequently seen guarding the entrances to upscale housing developments and standing at attention along boulevards.
Oft mentioned in the bible, rendered on Egyptian tomb walls, and used extensively to spiff up Las Vegas hotels, this is a plant with a long and fascinating role in humankind's history. And oh yeah, dates taste great too - a delicious Christmas time treat is dates stuffed with cream cheese and raw almonds - yum!
In Florida young date palms are very susceptible to leaf spot and other fungus - treat with fungicide. Note too, that this palm is also susceptible to lethal yellowing disease and should not be planted where other palms are suffering from this always fatal disease.
Steve Christman 5/22/99; updated 8/14/04