Dates: They are all around us, but where have they come from?

MUSCAT: The date is the sweet fruit of the Phoenix Dactylifera, or Date Palm, which is believed to have its origins in the ancient Indus Valley through China, India, and Pakistan.

However, its pre-eminence, in terms of its diversity, cultural and societal value, was first recognized in the ancient Middle Eastern regions of the Nile river from Nubia, up through the Theban capital of Luxor, staying with the Nile through the famed Valley of the Kings, and onwards through the pyramids that stretch from through Giza, Memphis and Kutu to the Nile Delta and the Mediterranean coast. Then East to the Levant region, so called as, “The place where the Sun rises,” and incorporates the similarly fertile areas of the Euphrates River through Mesopotamia, where such historically important cities as Babylon, Ur, Sidon, Damascus, and Jerusalem have been recognized as the ‘cradle of civilization.’

It is believed that the date palm has been around for millions of years, though archeological evidence has only emerged from some 9000 years ago in the Indus Valley Neolithic settlement of Mehrgahr.

The date fruit itself is readily identified a the ‘finger’ because of its shape, and the date palm owes its name to the translation of the Latin dactyl lifera as, ‘the bearer of the finger fruit.’

It has also proven tough and resilient as seeds of the Judean Date Palm variety, recovered from the Masada archeological dig, have been successfully cultivated after 2000 years.

The date palm’s reproductive morphology is doeicious, which means there are both male and female plants, only the females provide fruit, and female and male palms, from seeds, will be approximately half male, half female, however most dates today are horticulturally managed and grown from cuttings for commercial date farming, thus a predominance of female palms produce greater crops.

Also, while pollination was originally ‘windblown,’ most pollination today is manual, and achieved by brushing the male petals across the stigma of the female plant.

In the Sultanate, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries wealth is responsible for the strategic enhancement of this valuable national resource through its Nakheel Oman Development Company through the ‘One Million Date Palm Trees Project,’ and the establishment of a Nizwa based manufacturing complex in 2018. Other, private entities also contribute significantly to scientific, innovation, diversification, and marketing of the date fruit to maximize its potential for multi-million dollar returns, each year.

Still though, the story of the date, and the date palm comes back to the tree, the fruit, and the people who grow and harvest them, often as they have done through time… as we found at Lizagh, where this Wakeel, or falaj keeper, Rashid Said al Nidabi produces bumper harvests each year.