Phoenix Rising

Seeds, stored for 2000 years in a clay jar at the site of Herod the Great’s palace and fort at Masada, languished in a drawer for forty years after their discovery before researchers decided to try planting a few of them.

And to the surprise of everyone, one seed actually burst up through the soil with life. Not just any life, but with a Judea date palm, which had been a staple of existence and wealth for thousands of years.

Researchers Elaine Solowey (left) and Sarah Sallon hold the young seedling.  Photo: David Blumenfeld
Researchers Elaine Solowey (left) and Sarah Sallon hold the young seedling.
Photo: David Blumenfeld

The Hebrew Tree of Life, treasured for its protein-rich fruit and shade, was known by Romans as the Phoenix dactylifera, “the date-bearing phoenix”, because it seemed to flourish in areas where other plant life died, and it seemed to live virtually forever.

The tree is now eight years old, has flowered, and there a plans to crossbreed it with its nearest living relative, the Hiyani date palm of Egypt.

Tradition has it that the Judea date palm was rich in medicinal qualities, but its benefits today may be in a different area of health: Its genetic code may provide characteristics such as increased resistance to disease and environmental stresses to modern date palms.

The Judean Date Palm at Kibbutz Ketura Photo: via Wikipedia
The Judean Date Palm at Kibbutz Ketura
Photo: via Wikipedia

The ‘Methuselah’ Judea date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is particularly unique because this palm cultivar that once grew in lush groves has been considered extinct for 1800 years, a victim of the Roman war against Judea and the Roman army’s scorched earth tactics.

I include the Methuselah date-bearing phoenix today as a hopeful footnote to yesterday’s post on the impact of war and armed conflict on the environment.

A short video clip on the tree can be viewed here.

Modern date grove. Pre-Roman palm groves grew 7 miles wide. Date palms in modern Israel were imported mainly from California. Photo: Brett Smith
Modern date grove. Pre-Roman palm groves grew 7 miles wide.
Date palms in modern Israel were imported mainly from California.
Photo: Brett Smith