Since moving to the UAE, I’ve been fascinated by the date palms which line the avenues. The date palm is one of the few plants which is more or less native to this area. Besides being an attractive tree, it has a long history in the Gulf area of providing beduin people with sustenance and shelter. What’s more, the dates produced by the trees are a significant source of income for the area. According to a Wikipedia article (found here), the UAE is the world’s fourth largest date producer, with 710,00 tons of the delectable fruit annually. I’ve always loved dates, which are a splendid snack or addition to smoothies (they’re pretty nutritious, too, you know), and it’s great to be able to choose from all kinds when I go to any grocery store here. I’ve never lived in an area where the things grew before, and accordingly they had a sort of mystery for me. I wondered to myself, what do they look like when they grow? How dry are they before they’re picked? Being here I’m able to watch them in their various stages of growth, and I find it ever so interesting. There is much I have yet to learn about date palms and production, but I will share what I’ve discovered thus far.
There are male and female palms, and the females must be pollinated manually in order to ensure a crop. To that end, vendors sell the male flowers in the souk during February and March. Here’s a video (not mine) from YouTube of the process being performed on a very small tree. Here’s a much longer video of how it’s done in the tall trees.
My research indicates that there are also sharp spines that are necessarily removed from the tree’s branches in the spring, but I’ve never actually witnessed that, and to the casual observer, the leaves of the trees here all seem to be smooth. Are there some varieties of date palm trees that don’t have the spines? I don’t think so. Have a look at one of the images below, and you’ll notice that there are places where the leaves appear to have been skimmed with a knife. Besides, you probably noticed the vicious spikes protruding from the branches of the tall trees in the second video above. That’s proof, right? Despite never noticing spines being sliced off, I have seen men working in the trees, using a nifty rope chair contraption which I’d love to show you, but when I tried to get a photo I was too far away, and the subject of the picture was unclear.
One of our readers asked if date palms need much water (you’ll see his comment below, since I’m updating my existing post with more information). When I responded to his question, I wasn’t sure. Since then, I’ve done a little research and the answer is not really. They need about 300 liters a day, or about 30 minutes of watering. To prevent disease to the tree and infestation of pests like the red palm weevil, which is seriously bad news for date farmers, the water should be kept off the trunk and applied only around the base of the tree. If you want more information about this, click here.
Below are snapshots of the Al Ain Oasis and clusters of dates in different points of maturity.