This tree has defied all odds and become the oldest known tree seed to germinate.
The Judean date palm tree might look like a regular palm, but it lives in infamy in a number of ancient texts, including the Old Testament, and thrived for thousands of years in the Middle East. King David of the Hebrew Bible even named his daughter Tamar, after the Hebrew name for the tree.
The trees were a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea once they flourished after their appearance over 3,000 years ago and became a common sign of good fortune. However, in 70 AD, the Roman Empire sought to gain control of the kingdom and destroyed all the trees they could find to cripple the economy. By 500 AD, the trees were completely extinct.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that an excavation of Herod the Great’s palace in Palestine uncovered a small number of seeds in a clay jar that was estimated to be 2,000 years old. Though the discovery was exciting, the seeds were thought to be useless and were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University for four decades. It wasn’t until 2005, when botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to give them a shot and plant one seed that she realized they were still viable.
“I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?” said Solowey.
Despite her doubts, she took care of the sapling and it flourished and grew into a large tree. It is currently over 10 feet tall and, despite even more doubts that it could pollinate another plant and bear fruit, it has since done both. Researchers have dubbed the original plant a “dad” and said,
“He is a big boy now. He is over three meters tall, he’s got a few offshoots, he has flowers, and his pollen is good,” Solowey said. “We pollinated a female with his pollen, a wild female, and yeah, he can make dates.”
This palm tree is now the oldest known tree seed to germinate, and all it needed was the right environment and someone to take a chance on it. That’s exactly what Solowey did, and she continues to attempt a revamp of the palm tree population by making plans for the tree’s future. Her hope is to grow an ancient date grove in order to create a collection of long-forgotten trees.
“We would know what kind of dates they ate in those days and what they were like,” she said. “That would be very exciting.”
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