Date Palm (Pharnix Dactyliferd), a tropical fruit tree belonging to a genus of about a dozen species, of which it is the most important.
Date - Spathe, Flowers and Fruit.
The generic name is perhaps derived from Phoenicia. The trunk is rough with the scars of fallen leaf stocks, and when in a wild state is exceedingly spiny from the adherent or persistent stalks. Although rather slow in growth, it sometimes attains a height of 80 ft. The leaves are pale green, pinnatisect, bearing linear, leaflets which are more or less condu-plicate at the base, a peculiarity of this genus, and the lower leaflets often assume "the form of spines. A grove of young date palms is an impassable jungle, from the closeness and rigidity of the leaves. The flower spathes, which appear in the axils of the leaves, are woody and contain branched spadices with many flowers; more than 11,000 have been counted on a single male spadix. As the flowers are dioecious, it is necessary to impregnate the female blossoms artificially to insure a good crop. The male spadices are cut off when the pollen is ripe, and carefully shaken over the female ones. The fruit varies much in size and quality, and in the oases of the Sahara 46 varieties have been named. In Egypt the date is an important article of revenue, as the government taxes each tree, of which more than 2,500,000 are registered. A single tree will bear from 1 to 4 cwt. in a season.
In Fezzan the fruit ripens about the end of August. When dry, it is buried in the sand, and may thus be kept two years. As an article of food, the date is of great importance; but it is considered heating, and so is seldom used on long journeys, as it provokes thirst. In their native countries dates are not much relished in the crushed and dirty condition in which they are brought to our markets. The stone is long, narrow, and hard, and it germinates from the centre of its long convex side; from the nutriment it contains, it is of use, after soaking and bruising, as fodder for cattle. The date palm is easily propagated, either by seed, or more commonly by offshoots from the roots, and in eight years will bear a full crop. In countries where the temperature does not allow of the fruit's ripening, this palm is planted both for ornament and for its leaves, as in northern Italy, where the leaves are sold to Catholics for Palm Sunday and to Jews for the feast of tabernacles. As the date palm grew at Jericho, it is supposed to have been these "palm branches" which were strewn in the path of the Saviour on his entry to Jerusalem. When the heart of the leaves is cut, a thick honey-like juice exudes, which by fermentation becomes wine or vinegar.
From the leaves are manufactured baskets, brushes, mats, coverings for roofs and walls of houses, and innumerable utensils; the stem furnishes timber for houses, fences, fuel, etc.; the fibre from the base of the leaves may be spun into cords and ropes; and the stem yields a sort of starch. The date palm grows abundantly in Egypt, Arabia, Persia, and the neighboring countries, and in former times was much cultivated in the Canary islands. The P. sylvestris and P. farinifera are natives of India, and the former so much resembles the date palm that it is often confounded with it; as a source of sugar it is superior. The other species of phcenix are little known.