The Remarkable and Useful Date Palm
by Gloria W. Lannom
The feathery leaves of date palm trees rising above an oasis were a welcome sight to explorers and desert caravans. After miles of nothing but heat and sand, these trees signaled the presence of fresh water for thirsty men and animals.
The date palm is a remarkable tree, perfectly suited to life in the desert. It has a straight, rough single trunk that can grow 75 feet high. What look like branches are really leaves that grow out of the crown, or top, of the trunk. The leaves are barbed, and they keep camels and other animals from eating them.
As the date palm grows, the leaves fall off and leave a scar mark around the trunk. The inside of the trunk is filled with soft fiber called pith. This means that, unlike other trees, palms do not add growth rings each year to show their age.
The first berry-like fruit appears when a date palm is about eight years old. The tree continues to produce dates for more than 20 years.
First, yellow flower spikes appear from between the leaves. Then the fruit forms in clusters of 200 to 1,000 dates each. When the dates are ripe, they are dried to prevent spoiling.
Date palms and their fruit are incredibly useful. The single grooved seed of a date fruit yields oil. The seeds also can be ground up for a coffee substitute or for camel feed. The trunk and the sturdy midribs of the leaves are used to make crates and furniture. The leaves are woven into baskets. Date cluster stalks are made into rope or burned for fuel, and the fiber makes good packing material. The sap is drinkable. It can also be boiled down to make palm-sugar candy. The bud tips can be eaten as a salad.
The next time you eat a date, think about the remarkable and useful date palm tree.
- A date palm can live for up to 150 years.
- The date fruit is about 58 percent sugar and contains some protein, fat, and minerals.
- Fresh dates can be yellow, red, green, or orange. When they dry, dates become dark brown.
- Is the date palm tree a renewable or a nonrenewable resource? Why?
[anno: The date palm tree is a renewable resource because new date palm trees can be planted from the seeds of old date palm trees.]
- Why is the date palm tree an important resource to people living in the desert?
[anno: The date palm tree is an important resource to people living in the desert because it provides food and building material to people. It also signals to people traveling in the desert that there is fresh water available in a particular area.]
- Think of another tree or plant that is used for multiple purposes. What is the tree or plant? How do people use each of its parts? Do people need to plant more of this tree or plant? Why or why not? Write a few sentences for your answer.
[anno: Answers will vary but could include an example, such as a maple tree. The wood of the maple tree is used for building furniture. The sap of the maple tree is used to make maple syrup. Animals eat the seeds from the maple tree. People should plant new maple trees if they cut a maple tree down so that there will always be maple trees.]