This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
A palm, Phoenix dactylifera, Linn., native to North Africa or Arabia and extensively planted in countries inhabited by Arabs, and having arid or desert conditions. Figs. 1223-1226. It is also grown to some extent in southern Asia and southern Europe and in other tropical and subtropical countries. It is of very ancient cultivation, having been grown along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for four thousand years or more. It has long been planted casually in parts of Mexico and the southwestern parts of the United
States, and is now becoming a fruit of commercial promise in some of these regions.
The date palm reaches a height of 100 feet, making a nearly straight, shaggy trunk, and it continues to bear for one or two centuries. It is dioecious, the males usually equaling the females in a batch of seedlings, this constituting one of the great disadvantages of raising seedling dates. The Arabs practise artificial pollination by tying male flowers on the pistillate clusters. The flowers are produced early in the spring, from six to twenty clusters appearing on a mature tree. The female or fertile clusters of good size will produce as much as twenty to forty pounds of dates. As with apples and other fruits, there are many varieties differing in quality; seedlings do not reproduce the variety, so that propagation of named varieties must be accomplished by other means.
The date is the fruit, being essentially a drupe, measuring 1 to 3 inches long. The date of commerce is the cured and dried natural fruit. The sweet nutritious pulp of the fruit constitutes one of the most important foods of the Arabs. The leaves and other parts of the plant afford materials for dwellings and many domestic uses. The wood or trunk is used for timber. The importation of dates into the United States amounts to about $500,000 worth annually. No doubt the consumption will be greatly increased when a home-grown and clean-packed product is obtainable.
Aside from the direct uses of the plants and the fruits, the date palm is valuable as a cover for other crops in the hot and dry regions. Beneath the palms, other fruits, vegetables and many crops may be grown with more safety than in the open blazing sun. It is probable, therefore, that the date palm will become a feature of the farming in all the regions of the Southwest in which it thrives.
In Florida, California, and restricted areas of a few other states, the date has been grown for decorative purposes for more than a century. At the missions founded by the Spaniards at stem Augustine, and other places in Florida, and that long line of missions extending from far into Mexico northward and westward through southern New Mexico, Arizona and California, it is likely the date was planted wherever the climatic conditions were favorable to its growth. Within the borders of the United States the greater number of these early plantings were in Florida or along the coast of southern California, regions where the sum total of summer heat is not sufficient to develop the date fruit perfectly. The date, as a fruit-producer, being indigenous to a desert environment, does not take kindly to humid regions, even where it is not sufficiently cold to prohibit the growth of the tree. It is not only a question of maturing the tree or even of producing the fruit but also of bringing the fruit to perfect ripeness. For this reason the greater number of the early plantings in this country matured little fruit, while that produced was of poor quality, although in many instances the trees grew luxuriantly and to large size.
In the more arid parts of Lower California and Sonora, where there is sufficient water for irrigation, the early plantings have been continued down to the present time, and dates of fair quality have been grown for many years. Moreover, each year the area devoted to dates is increasing, and with the recent studies of the life-history of the plant by Swingle and others the adaptation of regions is now better understood and undoubtedly the future plantings will be made with much better assurance of success. Modern date culture in this country may be said to have begun with the planting of imported Egyptian and Algerian palms and seedlings principally in Salt River Valley, Arizona, in the years 1890-1900. Tourney's studies of these early plantings resulted in Bulletin No. 29 of the
Arizona Station. Studies of conditions in the Saharan region and the importation of varieties by the United States Department of Agriculture, were made in 1899 and 1900. These results were set forth in Bulletin No.
53 of the Bureau of Plant Industry, by Swingle. Stations for testing the introductions were provided by Arizona in 1899, by California in 1904, and by Texas in 1907. Subsequent large importations were made by Fairchild and Kearney, as described in Bulletins Nos.
54 and 92 of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the national Department of Agriculture.
Dates unquestionably can be grown profitably in many of the hot dry irrigated valleys in the southwestern parts of the United States. The Salton Basin in southern California promises particularly well for date-culture because of the high temperature, and here even the famous Deglet Noor date of the Sahara will ripen fully, even in cool seasons. Considerable attention is also being given to dates in the newly developing Imperial Valley. In northern California, the date can undoubtedly be grown for home use in many regions, even north of San Francisco; it finds good conditions for commercial culture in parts of Arizona; and there are probably adaptable regions in Texas. The date can endure more alkali than any other profitable fruit crop, and this fact will extend the range of its usefulness. When once well established, brief temperatures as low as 10° F. do not do serious harm to date palms.
While date trees have been grown in the United States and Mexico for certainly more than a century, and while much fruit has been produced incidentally here and there, largely as a by-product, nevertheless date-growing on a commercial scale is yet a new and experimental industry in this country. Although it promises well, the business requires experience and skill, and it must be established only in those regions which are particularly adapted to it, especially those that have an extremely hot summer climate. As yet, the returns from date-culture are almost impossible of determination. As nearly always happens with new and promising industries, doubtful claims have been made for profits of date-culture by interested parties. It must be borne in mind that practically all the varieties now recommended for commercial cultivation in this country are of Old World origin. Although many seedlings are being raised, it is yet too early to designate any one of them as superior for general orchard planting.
It is advisable that in the regions in California and Arizona, and elsewhere, that are adapted to dates, numbers of seedlings should be raised from the best varieties, care being taken that they have been pollinated from the best males; in this way the chance will be increased of originating varieties that are especially adapted to the region. The business must be developed by residents and those who study the conditions closely from year to year.
According to Swingle, at present less than a dozen varieties among the 200 or more on trial at the government date-gardens in the Southwest can be said to be well enough known to warrant planting on a commercial scale. The Deglet Noor and the Tazizaoot can be recommended for orchard planting in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of California; the Halawy, the Khadrawy, the Maktoom, and the Hayany are promising for cooler regions, such as the Salt River Valley of Arizona, and may be planted in the California date regions on a scale not too large for the early markets; the Rhars is excellent for home use as a fresh date, but is of little commercial value; the Thoory is a dry date of great promise, but it is as yet doubtful whether dry dates can be marketed advantageously on a large scale without an expensive publicity campaign. To plant other varieties that are new or inadequately tested, involves a considerable element of risk. The fact that they appear satisfactory in the Old World deserts is no guarantee that they will grow, bear, and ripen fruit properly in the Southwest or that their fruit will prove acceptable to American buyers. Any planting of a variety on a large scale before it has been thoroughly tested must be considered as a speculation.
It would be much safer for those who expect to grow dates on a commercial scale to limit themselves at first to those varieties that have been tested by public and private agencies, and to learn all phases of the culture, curing, packing, and marketing of the fruit of one or more of the standard varieties. This is the best possible preparation for the efficient culture of new sorts when they have been sufficiently tested in the government or other adequately supervised testing-gardens to render it desirable to test them on a commercial scale in private culture. The government, through the Department of Agriculture, has taken special pains to safeguard the young industry.
Fig. 1223. Young date palm, with growing suckers or offshoots.