Date Palm

Date Palm, a fruit-bearing palm tree. Dates, the tree's fruit, are about 54 per cent sugar and 7 per cent protein. They are used as table fruit, in jams and pastes, and in cooking. To the desert peoples of North Africa and the Middle East the date palm is of major importance. Its fruit is a staple in their diet, its leaf fibers are made into rope and baskets, and its trunk is used as building timber and fuel. An alcoholic beverage is made from the sap.

The date palm tree has a slender trunk that grows to a height of 70 to 100 feet (21 to 30 m). The trunk has no branches, but is topped by a stiff crown of feather-shaped leaves up to 20 feet (6 m) long. Numerous clusters of flowers are borne by the tree, each cluster containing as many as 10,000 flowers. Male and female flowers are produced on different trees. One male tree can pollinate 100 female trees. Date palms are adapted to wind pollination; however, hand pollination, which allows the grower to select the pollen used, has been practiced for centuries. The type of pollen used determines the time of ripening and the characteristics of the fruit.

There are three carpels, or ovaries, in the female flower. Two of them drop off after pollination. The remaining carpel becomes a drupe (a fleshy fruit containing a seed enclosed within a hard pit). The drupe develops with nearby drupes into a cluster of ripe dates. Each cluster weighs 20 to 25 pounds (9 to 11 kg), and contains about 200 dates. As many as 30 clusters are produced each year by a single tree. At first the dates are green and hard, but as they ripen they become soft and turn yellow or red. The date palm produces fruit in about six years, and continues to bear for more than 100 years.

Iran, Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq are the world's leading producers of dates. Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are also major producers. In the United States, dates have been grown in Arizona, but California produces almost the entire crop.

The date palm is Phoenix dactylifera of the palm family, Palmae.