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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wild Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata)

Family Arecaceae
Description
Phoenix reclinata can reach up to 12 m but is most often between 3 and 6 m. It may be either single or multi-stemmed, sometimes forming a dense, bushy clump. The leaves are arching, bright green fronds and form crowns at the top of the stems. The old fronds remain on the tree and become 'petticoats' as they hang straight down beneath the crown. The flowers appear during August, September and October. Male and female plants are separate. The inflorescences form attractive yellow sprays. Male flowers produce masses of pollen which is released in clouds. The orange-brown fruits are borne during February, March and April. They are oval in shape and smaller than the commercial date. It is a protected tree in South Africa.

This graceful palm with its characteristic slender, leaning stems is a feature of riverine bush and forest in the eastern parts of the country. It is almost always associated with water, either on riverbanks or in swamps.

 Distribution

The wild date palm grows naturally from the Eastern Cape extending as far north as Egypt. Its natural habitat is riverbanks and swamps, although it is occasionally found in grasslands if the water table is high enough. The roots are usually in water, therefore it would be tolerant of waterlogged conditions in cultivation. It will also take light frost but this will most likely affect the ultimate shape, making the palm dense and bushy rather than tall and elegant.

Ecology

Birds, monkeys and baboons eat the ripe fruit. Bushpig, nyala and bushbuck feed on fallen fruit. This is possibly a means of seed dispersal. The leaves are eaten by the palm-tree nightfighter butterfly caterpillar.

Uses and cultural aspects

The leaves are used to make mats, baskets and hats. Brooms for sweeping around rural dwellings are made from the dried inflorescences. The midrib of the frond is used to construct fish enclosures (kraals). Palm wine is made from the sap. The heart of the crown is sometimes eaten by people. Children enjoy the gum produced by the roots. Special skirts made from the leaves are worn by Xhosa boys when undergoing their initiation rites. The fruits are edible and apparently taste quite similar to the commercial date. The spines apparently have traditional medicinal use.