Displaying the densest cluster of fronds of all date palm species, the wild date palm (Phoenix sylvestris) not only produces sweet dates but makes an impressive and attractive ornamental landscape plant. Although slightly susceptible to lethal yellowing disease, it is drought-tolerant and best grown in nearly frost-free regions with hot summers. Grow it in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9b and warmer.
The wild date palm hails from the lower elevations in southern Pakistan and across most of India, where it grows in the plains and scrublands affected by the seasonal monsoons.
According to "An Encylopedia of Cultivated Palms," the scientific name Phoenix is a Latinized form of the Greek word for date palm, which may allude to the Phoenicians who brought the palm to new lands as they traveled. The species name sylvestris means "of the forest" in Latin. Besides being called the wild date palm, other names include toddy palm, silver date palm, Indian wine palm and the sugar palm.
A singular trunk matures to a height of 50 feet and 18-inch diameter and is covered in broad, triangular leaf bases and spirals of flattened diamond-shaped leaf base scars. Each feather-like frond gently arches and is 8 to 10 feet long and posses nasty spines on their lower stems. The leaflets on the fronds are about 18 inches in length and protrude out at several angles and range in color from gray to blue-green. Upwards of 100 fronds emanate from the top of this palm, giving it a full, rounded silhouette. In early summer, a yellow-branched flower stalk dangles down from the crown of fronds to bear tiny white blossoms; each plant bears either all male or all female blossoms. Female palms later form 1-inch diameter oblong dates that are orange and ripen to purplish red.
The sweet sap of the wild date palm is used in India to make sugar and fermented to create an alcoholic beverage: toddy or jaggery. The dates make a nice jelly, make a refreshing fresh juice or may be eaten fresh. The fronds traditionally can be used for making brooms, fans and floor mats, according to Purdue University's website. This palm makes an attractive plant for gardens or to line avenues. It resembles the more massive Canary Island date palm but is faster-growing, thinner-trunked and denser in its leafy crown.
Plant a wild date palm in a well-draining soil that is moist for most luxuriant growth, although it tolerates considerable drought. Abundant moisture in the heat of the growing season is ideal, followed by drier soil conditions over the winter. It must receive abundant sunlight: no less than eight hours of direct sun rays daily.