Phoenix sylvestris

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Joggers Park, Kalyani Nagar, Pune, MH, India. Photo by Manisha Gutman, edric.
Phoenix (FEH-niks)
sylvestris (sil-VEHS-trihs)
Wild Date Palm (Phoenix sylvestris) tree at Purbasthali W IMG 1494.jpg
Purbasthali in Bardhaman District of West Bengal, India. Photo by J.M. Garg, edric.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Phoenix (FEH-niks)
sylvestris (sil-VEHS-trihs)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Date-sugar palm, India date palm, India winepalm, Wild date-palm, Toddy palm, Sugar date palm, Silver date palm.

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Habitat and Distribution

Bangladesh, China Southeast, India, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the West Himalayas. Phoenix sylvestris is common, wild or cultivated, in the plains of India and Pakistan. Phoenix sylvestris thrives from the plains to the coast in low-lying wastelands, scrub forest and areas that have been disturbed or are prone to periodic or seasonal inundation with water, causing water-logging. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.


Solitary palm. Stem to 10 - 15 (20) m tall, without leaf sheaths about 20 - 30 cm in diam., with persistent, diamond-shaped leaf bases; stem base with mass of roots. Crown hemispherical, with more than 50 leaves. Leaves about 1.5 x 4 m long; leaf sheath reddish-brown, fibrous; pseudopetiole 40 - 50 cm long x 3 - 5 cm wide at base; acanthophylls closely inserted, arranged in several planes, about 13 - 18 on each side of rachis, conduplicate, yellow-green, very sharp, 4 - 14 cm long; leaflets irregularly fascicled, arranged in several planes, about 80 - 90 on each side of rachis, concolorous, greyish-green, often waxy, very sharp, 18 - 35 x 1.2 - 2.4 cm. Staminate inflorescences to 25 per plant, erect, not extending far beyond prophyll; prophyll coriaceous, bright orange internally when young, splitting first adaxially (side adjacent to trunk), 25 - 40 x 6 - 15 cm; peduncle 20 - 30 x 1.2 - 2.2 cm; rachis 13 - 18 cm long with numerous, congestedly arranged rachillae, each 4 - 16 cm long. Staminate flowers white-yellow, musty-scented; calyx a deep cupule to 2 - 2.5 mm high with 3 poorly defined lobes; petals 3 (rarely 4), apices obtuse, slightly hooded, 6 - 10 x about 3 mm; anthers 3 - 4 mm long. Pistillate inflorescences erect, arching on fruit maturation; peduncle green and upright, becoming golden-orange and arching on fruit maturation, to about 90 x 2 cm; prophyll papery, short, splitting twice between margins, about 24 x 5 cm; rachillae arranged in irregular horizontal whorls, about 50 - 60 in number, yellow-green in colour, about 8 - 34 cm long. Pistillate flowers creamy-white, about 40 - 50 mostly restricted to distal half of rachilla; calyx cupule 1.5 - 2.5 mm high; petals 3 - 4 x 4 - 5 mm. Fruit obovoid, 15 - 25 x 12 mm, ripening from green to orange-yellow, with mesocarp moderately fleshy and astringent. Seed obovoid with rounded apices, 15 - 20 x 7 - 10 mm; embryo lateral opposite raphe; endosperm homogeneous. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

Phoenix sylvestris was first described as Katou-Indel by Rheede (1678 - 1703) in Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, upon which Linnaeus' description of Elate sylvestris in Musa Cliffortianus (Linnaeus 1736) was entirely based. The description of Elate sylvestris in Species Plantarum (Linnaeus 1753), comprised two elements: Palma dactylifera minor humilis sylvestris fructu minori, Hin Ind. Zeylaneus of Hermann (1698) in Paradisi Batavi Prodomus 361, and Palma sylvestris malabarica, folio acuto, fructu prunifacie in Historia Plantarum 1364 (Ray 1686 - 1704). The latter was based entirely on Rheede's Katou-indel. Roxburgh (1832), in transferring Elate sylvestris to Phoenix, failed to acknowledge these two elements and based Phoenix sylvestris solely upon Katou-indel. The name Phoenix sylvestris is thus correctly typified by Katou-indel of Rheede's Hortus Indicus Malabaricus. Hamilton (1827) recognised the two elements in Elate sylvestris but it was Martius (1823 - 53) in Historia Naturalis Palmarum who formally separated them. Palma dactylifera minor humilis sylvestris fructu minore, Hin Ind. Zeylaneus of Hermann was included by Martius in P. pusilla Gaertn., and Katou-indel was taken to refer only to P. sylvestris Roxb. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.


Hardiness Zone: 8B-11. Growth Rate: Slow to moderate. Survival Temperature: 22ºF/-5.5ºC. Salt Tolerance: Moderate to high. Drought Tolerance: High. Soil Requirements: Widely adaptable. Light Requirements: High. Nutritional Requirements: Moderate.

Comments and Curiosities

Etymology: Phoenix is the Latin term for the Greek word that means "date palm." The species name sylvestris, translates from the Latin term for "of the forest."

Phenology: The flowering season of this plant was observed to be from the first to the third week of August in the case of plants growing around Jabli. The fruits take almost one year for attaining maturity. The ripening starts from the first week of June and continues till the middle of July. In its native habitat P. sylvestris often flowers at the beginning of the hot season from January to April, and fruits ripen from October to December. A wild date-tree yields very much less than a cultivated date-palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.). The trees of Phoenix sylvestris Roxb. under Jabli conditions were found to yield only about 7 kg of fruit. The fruits are harvested unripe by removing the whole bunches. They are then kept covered with wheat straw. They ripen within two three days. The fruits are seedy, and the seed occupies more than half of the fruit. The fruits are sweet. The overall fruit quality is good. (

Chemical composition of the fruit: The major chemical constituents of the fruit pulp were found to be as follows: Moisture, 66.7%; total soluble solids, 18.42%; sugars, 18.42 (mostly reducing)%; vitamin C, 9.42 mg per hundred g; pectin, 0.51%; protein, 1.12%; ash, 3.261%; phosphorus, 0.042%; potassium,.0.549%; calcium, 0.139% magnesium, 0.006% and iron, 0.007%. (

Medicinal properties: The fruit is cooling, oleaginous, cardiotonic, fattening, constipative, good in heart complaints, abdominal complaints, fevers, vomiting and loss of consciousness. The juice obtained from the tree is considered to be a cooling beverage. The roots are used to stop toothache. The fruit pounded and mixed with almonds, quince seeds, pistachio nuts and sugar, form a restorative remedy (Kirtikar and Basu. 1935). The central tender part of the plant is used in gonorrhoea (Watt, 1892). (

Utilization: The sweet fruits of this plant are eaten by all. However, the rains at the time of ripening cause much damage to the fruits. Mites were also observed to be an important pest of wild dates, causing a lot of damage to the fruits. The trunk is used by the villagers in the construction of houses, it forming the supporting beam of the roof. Halved trunks are used for diverting the water into the turbines of water-mills. The leaves are used for making brooms, fans, floor mats, etc. The plants growing in the plains yield a good amount of juice which is used for making toddy and jaggery. In India, sugar and alcohol are made from wild date palm flowers, and jelly is made from the fruit. The juice, as such, can also be drunk. The tree provides a good fodder for milk cattle and is believed to increase the fat content of milk. (

In parts of India, particularly West Bengal, sweet sap is tapped from the stem of P. sylvestris and drunk fresh or processed into a dark sugar (gur or jaggery) or alcoholic toddy (Davis 1972). The astringent fruits are rarely eaten fresh but are processed as jellies and jams. Blatter (1926) noted the fruits to comprise one constituent of a natural restorative, and the seeds when ground up with the root of Achyranthes aspera L. (Amaranthaceae) and chewed with betel leaves (Areca catechu L., Palmae) are considered a remedy for 'ague'. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.

Common Name: INDIA. Ita chettu (Telinga), [Beccari (1890)]; khurjjuri, kharjura, madhukshir (Sanscrit), khujjoor, kajar, kejur (Bengali), khaji, sendhu, kejur, khajur, khaji, salma, thalma, thakil (Hindi), ichal, kullu, ichalu mara (Kanara), khejuri (Uriya), itchumpannay, periaitcham, itcham-nar, itham pannay (Tamil), ita, pedda-ita, itanara, ishan-chedi (Telinga); eechamaram, periya eecham (Tamil); kubong, rotong (Lepchas). PAKISTAN. Khaji, khajoor; taree-khajoor. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.

"This is a striking Phoenix, though often confused with Phoenix canariensis. It has more blue-green leaves with more visciously spiney leaflet tips, and slightly more plumose looking. Finding 'true' undiluted species is not that easy, but they are around. I have had several seedlings and they are particularly slow, but forgiving palms (take 'unintentional' drought well)." (Geoff Stein), edric.

A large, fast growing, and very ornamental species which is actually quite rare in cultivation. As with so many species of Phoenix, many plants lurking in botanic gardens or collections under this name are actually hybrids with little resemblance to the true Silver Date Palm, or, even worse, are simply misnamed P. canariensis. Its tall trunk is much more slender than P. canariensis and its very full and dense crown has elegantly recurving, greyish, plumose leaves. It is as easy to grow as any Phoenix and will adapt to temperate as well as to tropical conditions. (, edric.

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

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

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

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.

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