date, name for a palm ( Phoenix dactylifera ) and for its edible fruit. Probably native to Arabia and North Africa, it has from earliest times been a principal food in many desert and tropical regions. For some 4,000 years it has been grown near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is cultivated in many other warm regions, including parts of the SW United States and Mexico.
The trees sometimes reach a height of 100 ft (30.5 m) and yield fruit for generations. Staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers are borne on separate trees, and pollination of those grown commercially is usually done by hand. Seedless dates may be produced without pollination but they are inferior. Heavy, pendant clusters of the sweet, nutritious fruits are produced; the yield after maturity (10 to 15 years) is usually from 100 to 200 lb (45–90 kg) or more per tree annually. Each fruit is 1 to 3 in. (2.54–7.6 cm) long, reddish brown or yellowish brown, and somewhat cylindrical or oblong. When ripe, the bunches of fruit are cut intact from the palm and matured in a warm place.
In the Old World, a sugar and a fermented drink are made from the sap of the date palm and other species of Phoenix, and the seeds are sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute or pressed for oil, leaving a residue useful for stock feed. The wood of the trunk is often used in construction and the leaves are used for weaving mats and baskets.
Dates are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Arecales, family Palmae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.