Judean date palm

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The Judean Date Palm at Kibbutz Ketura, nicknamed Methuselah.

The Judean date palm is a cultivar of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera).

Prized for its beauty, shade, and medicinal properties, the cultivar was thought to have become extinct circa 150 CE. However, in 2005, a preserved 2,000-year-old seed sprouted.[1] It is the oldest verified human-assisted germination of a seed (the claim in 2012 of a 32,000-year-old arctic flower involved fruit tissue rather than a seed).[2] The palm, named Methuselah (not to be confused with a bristlecone pine tree of the same name), was about 1.5 m (5 ft) tall in June 2008.[3]As of November 2011, it is reported at 2.5m height, and transplanted from pot to earth.[4]


The date palm was considered a staple in the Judean Desert, as it was a source of food, shelter and shade for thousands of years, and became a recognized symbol of the Kingdom of Judea. It grew around the Dead Sea in the south, to the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula regions in the north. The tree and its fruit caused Jericho to become a major population center and are praised in the Hebrew Bible possibly several times indirectly, such as in Psalm 92 ("The righteous himself will blossom forth as a palm tree does."), or date cluster mentioned in Song of Solomon 5:11; 7:7-8 (Heb: tal·tal·lim′; san·sin·nim′).

In ancient times, date palms were used for their supposed medicinal properties to cure many diseases and infections, promoting longevity and acting as a mild aphrodisiac. Modern studies have been done in an attempt to confirm their medicinal value.[5]

Its likeness was engraved on shekalim, the ancient Hebrew unit of currency. According to historical sources, the taste of them was something splendid. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist of the 1st century CE, wrote that Judæa's dates were known for their succulence and sweetness.[citation needed]

When the Romans invaded ancient Judea, thick forests of date palms up to 80 feet (24 m) high and 7 miles (11 km) wide covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The tree so defined the local economy that Emperor Vespasian celebrated the conquest by minting the "Judaea Capta", a special bronze coin that showed the Jewish state as a weeping woman beneath a date palm. The Judean Date is even mentioned in the Qur'an.[citation needed]

The date growing as a commercial fruit export stopped at the end of 70 CE, when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. From then, the tradition was lost. Judean date palms were wiped out circa 500 CE. This was the result of a Roman extermination policy, which endeavored to destroy the trees in an effort to cripple the Jewish economy [6]

Vespasian coin celebrating the victory over the rebels. The legend says: IVDEA CAPTA. ("Upon the capture of Judea")

A date palm is also featured on the ten-shekel coin of the New Israeli Shekel.


The book Plants of the Bible by Michael Zohary states: “The Hebrew word for the date palm is ‘tàmâr.’ . . . It became the Jews’ symbol of grace and elegance and was often bestowed by them to women.” For example, King David’s beautiful daughter was named Tamar.

Germination of 2000-year-old seed[edit]

During 1963-1965, excavations at Herod the Great's palace on Masada, Israel, revealed a cache of date palm seeds preserved in an ancient jar. They had experienced a very dry and sheltered environment for centuries. Radiocarbon dating at the University of Zurich confirmed the seeds dated from between 155 BCE to 64 CE. The seeds were held in storage for 40 years at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, until in 2005, the seeds were pretreated in a fertilizer and hormone-rich solution. Three of the seeds were subsequently planted at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arabah desert in southern Israel.[7] Eight weeks later one of the seeds had sprouted, and by June 2008, the tree had nearly a dozen fronds and was nearly 1.4 m (4 ft) tall. By the summer of 2010, the sapling stood at about 2 meters tall.

The plant was nicknamed "Methuselah," after the longest-lived person in the Bible. Methuselah is remarkable in being the oldest known tree seed successfully germinated, and also in being the only living representative of the Judean date palm, a tree extinct for over 1800 years, which was once a major food and export crop in ancient Judea.

Methuselah flowered in March 2011 and is male. The palm may be crossbred with its closest living relative, the Hiyani date from Egypt, to generate fruit by 2022.[8]

When compared with three other cultivars of date palm, genetic tests showed the plant to be closely related to the old Egyptian variety Hayany (also Hiani, Hayani), 19% of its DNA being different, and an Iraqi cultivar (16% different DNA).[9] They may have shared the same wild ancestor.

In addition to its honoured place in Judean history, the palm may contribute useful characteristics, such as environmental tolerance and disease resistance, to modern date cultivars.

Dr. Sarah Sallon, the head of the project, wants to see if the ancient tree has any unique medicinal properties no longer found in today's date palm varieties. “The Judean date was used for all kinds of things from fertility, to aphrodisiacs, against infections, against tumors,” she said. “This is all part of the folk story.”

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "An extinct Biblical plant returns to life" at Israel Today.
  2. ^ Wade, Nicholas (2012-02-20). "New Life, From an Arctic Flower That Died 32,000 Years Ago". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Researchers confirm age of "Methuselah" tree" at Reuters.
  4. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (2011-11-25). "Medicinal date palm from oldest known seed planted". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2013-08-24. 
  5. ^ Roach, John (2012-11-22). "2,000-Year-Old Seed Sprouts, Sapling Is Thriving". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2013-08-24. 
  6. ^ Jones, Larry (2010-03-11). "Extinct Judean Date Palm Grows After 1500 Years". Follow-The-Light. Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  7. ^ "Dr. Elaine Solowey". The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  8. ^ Miriam Kresh. "2000-Year-Old Date Pit Sprouts in Israel". Green Prophet Weekly Newsletter. Retrieved 2012-05-13. 
  9. ^ Sarah Sallon, Elaine Solowey, Yuval Cohen, Raia Korchinsky, Markus Egli, Ivan Woodhatch, Orit Simchoni, and Mordechai Kislev (2008). "Germination, Genetics, and Growth of an Ancient Date Seed". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 320 (5882): 1464. doi:10.1126/science.1153600. Retrieved 2010-11-11.