The date palm is believed to have originated in the lands around the Persian Gulf and in ancient times was especially abundant between the Nile and Euphrates rivers. Alphonse de Condole claimed that it ranged in prehistoric times from Senegal to the basin of the Indus River in northern India, especially between latitudes 15 and 30.
There is archeological evidence of cultivation in eastern Arabia in 4,000 B.C. It was much revered and regarded as a symbol of fertility, and depicted in bas relief and on coins. Literature devoted to its history and romance is voluminous.
Nomads planted the date at oases in the deserts and Arabs introduced it into Spain. It has long been grown on the French Riviera, in southern Italy, Sicily and Greece, though the fruit does not reach perfection in these areas. Possibly it fares better in the Cape Verde Islands, for a program of date improvement was launched there in the late 1950’s
Iraq has always led the world in date production. Presently, there are 22 million date palms in that country producing nearly 600,000 tons of dates annually. The Basra area is renowned for its cultivars of outstanding quality. The date has been traditionally a staple food in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, the Sudan, Arabia and Iran. Blotter quotes the writer, Vogel, as stating: “When Abdel-Gelil besieged Sucking in 1824, he cut down no fewer than 43,000 trees, to compel the town to surrender; nevertheless, there are still at least 70,000 left.”
In 1980, production in Saudi Arabia was brought to nearly a half-million tons from 11 million palms because of government subsidies, improved technology, and a royal decree that dates be included in meals in govern mint and civic institutions and that hygienically-packed dates be regularly available in the markets.
Farmers receive financial rewards for each offshoot of a high-quality date planted at a prescribed spacing. The Ministry of Agriculture has established training courses throughout the country to teach modern agricultural methods, including mechanization of all possible operations in date culture, and recognition and special roles of the many local cultivars. In West Africa, near the Sahara, only dry, sugary types can be grown.
Batavia introduced seeds of 26 kinds of dates from the Near East into northern India and Pakistan in 1869; and, in 1909, D. Milne, the Economic Botanist for the Punjab, introduced offshoots and established the date as a cultivated crop in Pakistan.
The fruits ripen well in northwestern India and at the Fruit Research Center in Saharan. In southern India, the climate is unfavorable for date production. A few trees around Behold in the Philippines are said to bear an abundance of fruits of good quality. The date palm has been introduced into Australia, and into northeastern Argentina and Brazil where it may prosper in dry zones. Some dates are supplying fruits for the market on the small island of Margarita off the coast from northern Venezuela. Seed-propagated dates are found in many tropical and sub-tropical regions where they are valued as ornamentals but where the climate is unsuitable for fruit production.
In November 1899, 75 plants were sent from Algiers to Jamaica. They were kept in a nursery until February 1901 and then 69 were planted at Hope Gardens. The female palms ultimately bore large bunches of fruits but they were ready to mature in October during the rainy season and, accordingly, the fruits rotted and fell. Only occasionally have date palms borne normal fruits in the Bahamas and South Florida.
Spanish explorers introduced the date into Mexico, around Sonora and Somalia, and Baja California. The palms were only seedlings. Still, the fruits had great appeal and were being exported from Baja California in 1837.
The first date palms in California were seedlings planted by Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries in 1769. Potted offshoots from Egypt reached California in 1890 and numerous other introductions have been made into that state and into the drier parts of southern Arizona around Tempe and Phoenix. In 1912, Paul and Wilson Propane purchased a total of 16,000 offshoots of selected cultivars in Algeria, eastern Arabia and Iraq and transported them to California for distribution by their father, F.O. Propane who was a leader in encouraging date culture in California. It became a profitable crop, especially in the Coachella Valley. There are now about a quarter of a million bearing
Trees in California and Arizona.