The palm tree is a member of the plant family known as Arecaceae or Palmae, with about 2,500 different recorded species of palms. Most have single trunks but do not have branches, just extensive palm leaves shaped like fans or feathers. Perhaps most significant among the palm trees is the date palm, prized for its many uses and valued for its long history.
The mystery of the origin of the date palm tree (Phoenix Dactylifera) could rival the riddle of the Sphinx. There is speculation that the date palm originated in Mesopotamia, where it was cultivated about 6,000 years ago, and where its dates served as a staple food. However, the earliest recorded information begins from the point of cultivation. No conclusive proof of its origin in the wild exists in the public domain.
Seeds of wild date palm trees, estimated to be about 50,000 years old, were found in Northern Iraq. Ancient Assyrian monuments illustrate cultivation and pollination of the date palm tree, which had a religious significance as well as practical applications to everyday life. These historical relics are intriguing clues as to the origin of the date palm, but they are not proof positive on which to base any particular conclusion.
The Code of Hammurabi
During ancient Babylonian times, The Code of Hammurabi was drawn up to maintain the rule of law throughout the empire. The Code was named after King Hammurabi (1792 to 1750 B.C.). The section pertaining to agriculture provided a detailed accounting of the rental, sales and cultivation of date palm trees, and crop sharing schemes. The date palm was so highly valued that laws prohibited its destruction without the permission of the landowner.
Among the most interesting palm references in history are biblical references. The palm tree is noted in the Bible as a location marker, as a source of food and celebration, as the “City of Palms,” as carved wall décor, as a symbol of strength and victory and as a sign of welcome. Clearly the palm tree made a significant contribution to the way of life during the period of record.
Fossil records suggest that date palms were widespread throughout the Mediterranean as far back as the Eocene epoch, which began about 56 million years ago and lasted for about 20 million years. Today, their numbers worldwide are estimated to be in the multimillions. Besides the Middle East and North Africa, date palms grow in Southern California, Florida and South Carolina in the United States, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Australia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. Their uses include the manufacture of syrup and juice, vinegar, chutney, medicine, fuel, furniture, jewelry and construction materials.