Medjool Date Palm

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Medjool Date Palm, Phoenix dactylifera

Family: Arecaceae

Also called Edible Date Palm, Date Palm or Mujhoolah

Since first seeing this magnificent palm, during our “adventures” in Iraq (circa 2005 – 2009), it has been a favorite of ours.  

(In fact, several of those flourishing in our gardens are the “children” of date palms procured by Saddam Hussein for installation around his numerous palaces.  He – of the Islamic Sunni sect – had large specimens dug up and transported from the Shia region of Southern Iraq, to be planted around his nearly one hundred different “residences”.)  

Loving it here, when but six years old – having grown from a seed – one of these beauties was nearly thirty feet (10+ meters) tall.  Beyond that (succeeding in its effort to emulate and exceed my bulging waistline) it was over sixty – frond trimmed trunk – inches (152 cm) around at its base!  Yet more impressive, vertically, when fully grown, it may quite possibly reach heights of one hundred feet (45.7 meters).   

Thought to have originated in the northern Africa and Persian Gulf area, the delicious, yellow, red to rich dark brown-orange, date fruit (drupe) of this palm has been a Middle Eastern staple food for thousands of years.  There is archaeological evidence of this plant’s cultivation in Arabia beyond 6,000 BC!

The Date Palm is dioecious – separate male and female plants – but as the norm, only the females bear fruit.  While most tropical plant references state that it takes between four to seven years before this will come to fruition, we had fruit on ours only two years after they sprouted from seeds!  

In one of those rather obvious statements, beyond its many edible uses, increasingly as a result of it striking appearance, it is being used for landscaping.  When so employed, they sometimes are used to line streets or planted with three or more growing as a grouping, in varying heights.

Highly tolerant of salt and drought, they love direct sun, can grow in a wide variety of well-drained soils but, generally, fruits at less than its optimum in the tropics/subtropics. 

The Date Palm’s 20 to 30 long – pinnate, blue-grey-green fronds sometimes grow to twenty feet (over six meters).  For aesthetics and visual attractiveness – upon the yellowing and drying up of these fronds – they are often cut near the trunk in such a manner as to present a beautiful diamond shaped pattern. (Many years ago, a friend told me that the way to remember this palm’s name was to look at the unique trunk and think of its closely cut frond bases as “my jewels”.)

The young date leaves can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as can its bud or heart – though, (Well, duh!), its removal kills the palm.  Finely ground seeds can be mixed with flour to make bread.  Ground date seeds can be used as a coffee supplement and even the flowers of the date palm are edible.  The buds of the flowers can be used in salads or ground with dried fish as a condiment for bread.   Even the tapped sap can be converted into palm sugar molasses (called jaggery or gur) to make molasses or – heaven forbid – alcoholic beverages. 

Relating to that latter point is the fact that in North Africa the tapped palm sap known as lagbi (if left unattended for not all that many hours – dependent upon the temperature) becomes a libation.  The plethora of great uses of this amazing palm is astounding  . . . I’ll drink to that!

The Medjool Date Palm is best known for its large, extremely delicious, dates with taste and texture of “honey-butter”.  Each tree can produce 3.000 to 5,000 individual fruits, every season, for over 100 years! 

Family wise – of the hundreds of distinctly different varieties of date palms, with cultivars into the thousands – there are three main groups.  These are: the soft (high moisture/low sugar) – Barhee, Halawy, Khadrawy, Medjool; semi-dry (low moisture/high sugar), Dayri, Deglet Noor, Zahidi/Zahedi; and dry, Thoory (low moisture/high sugar).  The type of fruit is determined by its glucose, fructose and sucrose content. 

Sadly, all varieties of the date palm are somewhat subject to terminal, lethal yellowing and Fusarium Wilt.

Though a desert plant, ours thrive –growing outrageously fast – as a result of regular, deep watering and fertilizing. 

But, should you decide to have these around your home or garden, be vigilant of their extremely sharp, slender, needle-like spikes protruding from their pinnate frond stems! 

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“Two somewhat bent and twisted “doubles”, which on all counts makes them the exception rather than the norm, growing in the
International Zone in Baghdad.”

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“Be it the striking trunk or the beautifully balanced crown top, the Medjool is a stately, majestic palm. (These are the “parents” of ours.) “

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“The fructose based Medjool Dates are, for all intents and purposes, the undisputed best! Popping them open into one’s mouth is like a shot of delicious honey butter!”

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“From last year, Patty and Dulio, stand below a male Medjool Date Palm on our Transition Terrace.  Considering it was but a seed not much than five years before, that’s pretty significant growth!”