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What is a Date Palm?

A date palm is a majestic tree synonymous with oasis life, yielding the sweet, nutritious fruits we know as dates. Revered for millennia, these palms are not only a food source but also cultural icons in many societies. Intrigued by how these trees have shaped civilizations and diets? Discover their rich history and modern significance with us. What secrets do they hold?
Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton

A date palm, sometimes known as Phoenix dactylifera, is a tall tree that produces a sweet fruit known as a date. It normally reaches a height of 49.2 to 82 feet (15 to 25 m). This tree typically has feathery leaves at the top which may be anywhere from 0.9 to 1.5 feet (3 to 5 m) in length. The trunk is usually very long and narrow with rough-textured bark over most of its surface.

There are no branches on a date palm tree. The leaves normally cascade downward from the crown of the plant to form a sort of canopy. They might spread anywhere from 19.7 to 32.8 feet (6 to 10 m) in diameter. This can often provide some shade for a person to sit in or for other small plants to grow in.

Dried dates.
Dried dates.

This tree is believed to have originated in Africa or Asia. Ancient seeds of this plant have been found in what is modern-day Iraq. Although its origins are in the Middle East, it now also grows in Mexico, Chile, India, Italy, Spain, and the southwestern United States.

A desert environment is typically ideal for a date palm tree to grow in. It normally does especially well in an oasis setting because there is often an ample supply of water for the roots to soak up. The tree can usually withstand hot temperatures and generally does not wither when placed in direct sunlight.

Dates growing on a date palm.
Dates growing on a date palm.

The fruit of a date palm tree generally grows on long strands near the top of the tree. These dates may also grow in clusters like that of grapes. They are usually oval-shaped and around 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) in length. They could be medium to dark brown in color and might also have a reddish hue. The skin of this fruit is typically very thick and wrinkled with a shiny appearance to it.

Dates usually have a very sweet taste when eaten fresh. Even so, they are often dried as a method of preserving and for snacking. They are a common ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, and might also be used in making desserts.

A bowl of medjool dates.
A bowl of medjool dates.

A date palm can take anywhere from four to seven years to start bearing dates, with peak crop production normally beginning after 10 years. Its fruit must usually be harvested several times during the year to allow room for new crops to grow. This is a hardy tree generally grown commercially rather than in residential settings.

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Discussion Comments


I've never seen a date palm before, but it looks very interesting in the picture. I buy dates to make oatmeal date cookies. I just replace the raisins with dates. They are so yummy.


@burcinc-- I'm Muslim and my family buys a large box of dates during Ramadan, so that we can break our fast with it.

Dates are delicious but the good quality ones are so expensive. I think dates grow in the US, but they are small, dry and not as flavorful as the ones from the Middle East. Good quality dates are supposed to be large with a lot of flesh, very sweet taste and dark brown skin. The skin should not have discoloration or any other marks.

Since we only really buy dates once a year, we don't mind splurging. We get the best kind.


@Logicfest-- Dates are very important in Islam too. There is a tradition to break fasts with dates if possible. They are also prized for their nutrition and sugar content. This was a much needed snack in the desert areas of the Middle East when other plants did not grow.

There is also a story in the Qur'an about how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was fed with dates by God when she was in the desert pregnant, alone and hungry. God caused dates to fall from the date palm under which she was sitting and He made water flow from the ground for her to eat and drink.

@Logicfest -- and the significance of date palms in Christianity continues. Palm Sunday is still observed and the ashed used on Ash Wednesday are supposed to be from the previous year's palms.

I say "supposed to be" because I well remember a Methodist pastor who lost the palm leaves from the year before. He tried to substitute shoe polish on Ash Wednesday one year.

I didn't know Methodists could get that mad. After several angry calls to the bishop, that pastor was quickly removed and sent to another church.


These trees are particularly significant in the Christian and Jewish faiths. Old Testament (Christian) references to palms generally point to the date palm which was viewed as a symbol of victory (running across a palm was a sign that an oasis was nearby and that a time of wandering through the desert had ended).

Also, the palm was seen as a symbol of welcoming heroic figures in Jewish culture. That is precisely why Christ was welcomed with palm leaves when he arrived in Jerusalem and was declared the messiah by the faithful. You will notice in a lot of early Christian art that Christ and His apostles were often depicted as being surrounded by palm leaves. There is a reason for that.

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    • Dried dates.
      Dried dates.
    • Dates growing on a date palm.
      Dates growing on a date palm.
    • A bowl of medjool dates.
      By: Bert Folsom
      A bowl of medjool dates.