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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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The fruit of a palm tree, Phoenix dactylifera, is a staple food in the desert regions of N. Africa and the Middle East; indeed, in such regions the tree is often the essential plant on which life depends, a universal provider which is said to have 800 distinct uses.

The tree, like all palms, has a single growth point at the tip, so the removal of this terminal bud kills the tree. Starting at ground level, the plant grows a new section every year, with fresh leaves on top of the previous year’s section. The leaves live for an average of five years. Thus the tree consists of about five leafy sections on top of a stack of sections whose leaves have died, and this stack rises higher and higher away from the ground. The date palm is a long-lived tree and may eventually exceed 30 m (100') in height. However, commercial growers usually cut down their trees when they are 15 m (50') tall because of the difficulty in managing them, since they flower and fruit only at the top.