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What Is a Date Palm?

Dried dates.
Dates growing on a date palm.
A bowl of medjool dates.
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  • Written By: Misty Amber Brighton
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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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.

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.

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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 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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