Date palm (Eng), palmera, palma, palmera datilera (Spa), fasser, palmer, palmera (Cat), palma, palmondoa (Baq), palma, palmeira (Glg), tamareira, tamara, palmeira (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? The largest palm grove in Europe is in Elche (Alicante) and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It contains more than 200,000 specimens and was planted by the Muslims when they settled in the Iberian Peninsula.
This plant can be up to 30 m tall, although its slender trunk is only 20-50 cm in diameter, and it often sprouts from the rootstock, something that distinguishes it from the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), which it is often confused with, even though the latter species always has a thicker, single trunk. The date palm is covered with old leaf bases. When these are finally shed they leave scars on the trunk. The leaves are persistent, leathery, arched, very large and spread out in a plume from the crown like a mop of hair. In the novel Entre naranjos, Between orange trees, the Valencian writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, gives us a good description of this feature: “The groups of palms, waving their feather dusters, like jets of leaves trying to touch the heavens, then drooping listlessly back down...”. They are blue-green or greyish green in colour, unlike those of its close relative. They measure 1-5.5 m in length and are pinnate in form. On either side of the thick midrib are many segments (pinna). These are folded, rigid and finish in a point. There are male trees, which produce pollen, and females, which once fertilised produce the fruit (dates) that form in clusters at the base of the leaves. When they are green they resemble acorns with no cups, but when ripe they become fleshy, brown and very sweet. They contain a very elongated pit, which has a longitudinal groove and, often, transverse striations.
This species grows in dry, arid or semi-desert environments that are sunny and sandy and which often have saline soils, indicating the presence of water at great depths. The Canarian journalist and writer Alberto Vázquez Figueroa describes these zones in his novel, Los ojos del tuareg, The eyes of the Tuareg: “Palms tend to have their heads in the fire and their feet in the water”. The date palm lives from sea level up to altitudes of 300 m, and is strongly affected by frost.
The natural range of the date palm stretches from the southern Mediterranean basin (Senegal and southern Morocco) to the coasts of Pakistan. It is frequently cultivated for its fruit as well as an ornamental. Is has naturalized in the east and south of the Iberian Peninsula, mainly thanks to mammals and birds who have spread the fruit, but it is never found very far from the coast. Even so, this species has been planted in Madrid, although these specimens in the interior of the peninsula are at the limit of their frost resistance. We are reminded of this by the journalist and writer Ramón Gómez de la Serna in his Letanía de Madrid, Litany of Madrid: “Madrid is a place of few palms”.