The Palmeral includes the Parque Municipal and many other orchards (huertos), covering over 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi), including 1.5 km2 (0.58 sq mi) within the city of Elche (Elx). It contains more than 11,000 palm trees, mostly date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), with individual specimens up to 300 years old. At its peak, in the 18th century, it may have covered an area twice as large, with up to 200,000 trees. The dates are harvested in December. A famous date palm is the "Imperial Palm" (Palmera Imperial), with 7 stems in the shape of a candelabra, named after Elisabeth, known as Sissi, the Empress consort of Franz Joseph, who visited the plantation in 1894.
It is thought that palms were originally planted in this location as early as the 5th century BC by Carthaginians who settled in south-east Spain. The plantation survived under the Romans and was expanded under the rule of the Moors, including the irrigation system extended in the times of Abd ar-Rahman I and which remains in use. The formal landscape of the palmeral that still exists today was created when the city was under Moorish control in the 10th century. This transfer of landscape and agricultural practices from one culture and continent to another (Moorish Africa to Christian Europe) is the reason for inclusion as a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site. Although the area has an annual rainfall of only 300 mm (12 in), the palm trees planted along a network of irrigation canals from the salty River Vinalopó creates a patchwork of agricultural plots (huertos), each demarcated and shaded by the palm trees to create a protected microclimate. Laws were passed to protect the plantation after the Reconquista.