This is truly a child of the desert, and its delicious fruit only seems to reach perfection in climates with desert-like conditions as to heat and aridity of air. The tree is grown in California, on our gulf coast, and in Cuba. In these relatively moist climates it is a handsome palm, but its fruit rarely reaches perfection.
In the dry, hot valleys of the Salt and Gila rivers in Arizona, the old mission trees seem perfect, and the writer has picked, from bunches weighing forty pounds, as large and delicious fruit as has been tested in central Asia; In Sonora, Mexico, east of the coast range of mountains, the date is also a success in the way of bearing annual crops of good fruit. In these sections the planting of date-trees is rapidly on the increase.
The old trees, bearing at from eight to twelve years old over four hundred pounds of large fine fruit in this dry interior region, are all, so far as known to the writer, seedlings. Some of these seedlings, however, we know from testing bear larger and better fruit than the varieties imported by the United States Department of Agriculture from Algeria in 1891 and 1892, and planted at Phoenix, Arizona. Better results are expected from those secured in Algeria in 1899 by a special agent of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Algerian dates and those from Arabia thrive as well as the old seedlings, and have borne fruit freely when only eight years old. The best varieties are now known, and the planting of date orchards with suckers of the best varieties, with proper alternation of the staminate and pistillate plants, has now started.
The present consumption of dates from the hot desert climates of Asia and Africa is light when compared with other commercial tropical fruits. Many who know the methods of preparing, drying, and pressing into boxes for shipping in the far East will not touch the fruit, and those who are less fastidious eat the pasty, dried dates sparingly. As picked fresh from the trees it is one of the most delicious and wholesome fruits of the tropics. The writer's experience fully agrees with that of Mr. W. G. Palgrave, who says in his "Central and Eastern Arabia:" "Those who, like most Europeans, only know the date from the dried specimens in shop windows, can hardly imagine how delicious it is when eaten fresh. Nor is it, when eaten fresh, heating - a defect inherent to the preserved fruit everywhere; nor does its richness bring satiety. In short, it is an article of food alike pleasant and healthy."
If grown commercially and put up neatly in dried or canned form in southeast California and Arizona, it would soon become a popular fruit in all the States where it cannot be grown.
The seeds germinate readily when planted, even under the most unfavorable conditions. We have known them to germinate in the streets of Ames, Iowa, where seeds were dropped that grew to a height of five or six inches, with continual travel around and over them. But they do not come true from seed, and up to the present no way is known to distinguish the pistillate from the staminate trees until they blossom. But with further experience - as with the Buffalo-berry - it is probable that some close observer will reveal the sex difference when the plants are young. The usual plan is to bank up earth about the crown of the variety to be propagated and above the base of the suckers, keeping the earth moist by daily watering. Usually the suckers are severed partly from the crown before mounding, which favors the emission of roots and makes it easier to separate the plants when rooted. With the aid of glass covering to lessen evaporation and the liberal use of water, the suckers can be rooted in pots by severing them with a sharp chisel close to the crown of the parent and using them as green cuttings (62. Immature-growth Cuttings). When grown in pots it is far easier to transplant them in orchard where they are exposed to a dry air and hot sun. But in transplanting, the Arab saying that "the date should have its head in the fire and its roots in the water," should be kept in mind. In orchard planting it is usual to plant about one male tree to twenty-five pistillate ones, and to pollinate, the great clusters of flowers of male blossoms are tied to the leaf-stems above the cluster when expanded. But where the two sexes are growing near each other the clusters seem to be pollinated most likely by insects.
When the fact is kept in mind that the date-palms commercially grown in Egypt, Algiers, and Africa have come from selection and natural crossing in half-barbarous parts of the earth, it naturally suggests the possibility of improvement by crossing. The florists have done some work along this line in some cases with not nearly allied species. Burbidge states that Mr. M. Denis Hyeres secured an interesting hybrid between Cliamerops humilis and the date-palm. In this case the leaves were like those of date-palm and also the fruits were similar, but the seed was too large in proportion to the flesh.
A close observer in Arizona will find that the union of the desirable traits of tree and fruit of two of the best seedling varieties will prove an advantage. It may also prove that the best varieties imported from Egypt or Algiers are bearers of larger and better fruit, and larger bunches, than any of the old seedlings, but they may not prove so hardy or perfect in tree. In such cases the crossing will most likely prove an advantage. The tree3 being dioecious the crossing will be a simple matter.