Phoenix dactylifera

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Phoenix (FEH-niks)
dactylifera (dahk-tih-lih-FEHR-ah)
Scientific Classification
Genus: Phoenix (FEH-niks)
dactylifera (dahk-tih-lih-FEHR-ah)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: solitary or clustering.
Leaf type: pinnate
Height: 10-30 m
Trunk diameter: 40-60 cm
Sun exposure: full
Survivability index
Common names
Date Palm

Habitat and Distribution

Probably native to northern Africa and southwestern Asia;
Todra Gorge, Morocco. Photo by Dr. T. Upsom, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
exact natural distribution unknown due to extensive cultivation for at least 8,000 years. Algeria, Benin, California, Canary Is., Cape Verde, Egypt, Fiji, Gulf States, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Madeira, Mauritius, Morocco, New Caledonia, Oman, Pakistan, Réunion, Saudi Arabia, Sinai, Socotra, Somalia, Spain, and Turkey.


Single- or multiple-trunked, pinnate palm to 15-25 m (rarely 30 m) tall. The trunk is 40 - 60 cm diameter, often with a much wider base.

Rounded crown of dark green feather leaves 3-5 m long, with pinnae to 20-40 cm long closely spaced along the rachis. Like all Phoenix, it has long, sharp spines at the bases of the leaves, which are formed from modified leaflets.

The species is dioecious, with separate male and female trees. The fruit are yellow or orange when ripe (turning brown when dried), 3-5 (-7) cm long and 2-3 cm diameter, with a large seed; the fruit pulp is edible and delicious, and is the basis for a major fruit crop of global importance (dates). They are produced on long, densely branched panicles.


Date Palms are grown in extensive orchards throughout southwestern Asia and northern Africa wherever adequate groundwater supplies are available. Major producers include Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia. More recently, orchards have been established in the New World in Mexico and southern California.

It is also grown as an ornamental tree; it is popular with people starting growing palms for the first time due to the very easy availability of seed; the stones from shop-bought dates (even dried dates) will grow readily. As an ornamental plant, it is however less attractive than many other palms, with sparser, more rigid foliage (less graceful) than the related Canary Island Date Palm Phoenix canariensis.

It will tolerate frosts down to about -10°C but only for brief periods, and cannot tolerate cold wet winter weather as well as P. canariensis; this makes cultivation outdoors in e.g. the British Isles impossible, unlike P. canariensis which can be grown there in milder areas.

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Comments and Curiosities

The natural distribution of P. dactylifera is not known. The long history of date palm cultivation in the Middle East and North Africa has extended the distribution of the species far beyond its presumed original range, such that its area of origin remains a mystery. It is doubtful whether P. dactylifera still exists in the wild. Zohary & Spiegel-Roy (1975) claim that 'spontaneously-growing dates can be found throughout the range of date cultivation'. Many of these 'wild' date stands may represent long neglected palm groves or escapes from such groves. In some areas of the Near East date palms can be found occupying primary niches and could perhaps represent wild P. dactylifera (Zohary & Hopf 1988). CULTIVATION. Traditional areas of date palm cultivation have included the Middle East, Near East, North Africa, parts of north western India and Pakistan (Malik 1984). More recently, date palm cultivation has been established on a commercial level in California.

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

S.C. Barrow, A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae). 1998. A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae). Kew Bulletin, Vol. 53, No. 3 (1998), pp. 513-575.
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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