Dates Farming

Ambar DatesThe date palm grows about 23 metres (75 feet) tall. Its stem, strongly marked with the pruned stubs of old leaf bases, terminates in a crown of graceful, shining, pinnate leaves about 5 metres (16 feet) long. Floral spikes branch from the axils of leaves that emerged the previous year. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Under cultivation the female flowers are artificially pollinated. The date is a one-seeded fruit, or drupe, usually oblong but varying much in shape, size, colour, quality, and consistency of flesh, according to the conditions of culture and the variety. More than 1,000 dates may appear on a single bunch weighing 8 kg (18 pounds) or more.

 

The tree is propagated either from seeds or from suckers, offshoots that arise chiefly near the base of the stem in the early years of the life of the palm. Offshoots are used for commercial plantings. When offshoots are three to six years old and have formed roots of their own, they are removed and planted. Palms begin to bear fruit in 4 to 5 years and reach full bearing at 10 to 15 years, yielding 40 to 80 kg (90 to 180 pounds) or more each. Palms are known to live as long as 150 years, but their fruit production declines, and in commercial culture they are replaced at an earlier age.

 

Uses

All parts of the date palm yield products of economic value. Its trunk furnishes timber; the midribs of the leaves supply material for crates and furniture; the leaflets, for basketry; the leaf bases, for fuel; the fruit stalks, for rope and fuel; the fibre, for cordage and packing material; and the seeds are sometimes ground and used as stock feed. Syrup, alcohol, vinegar, and a strong liquor are derived from the fruit. The sap is also used as a beverage, either fresh or fermented, but, because the method of extraction seriously injures the palm, only those trees that produce little fruit are used for sap. When a palm is cut down, the tender terminal bud is eaten as a salad.

Uses

All parts of the date palm yield products of economic value. Its trunk furnishes timber; the midribs of the leaves supply material for crates and furniture; the leaflets, for basketry; the leaf bases, for fuel; the fruit stalks, for rope and fuel; the fibre, for cordage and packing material; and the seeds are sometimes ground and used as stock feed. Syrup, alcohol, vinegar, and a strong liquor are derived from the fruit. The sap is also used as a beverage, either fresh or fermented, but, because the method of extraction seriously injures the palm, only those trees that produce little fruit are used for sap. When a palm is cut down, the tender terminal bud is eaten as a salad.

Classification

The palms have been variously placed with the families Araceae (in the order Alismatales), Pandanaceae (order Pandanales), and Cyclanthaceae (also Pandanales) on the basis of a woody habit with leaves in terminal clusters and presumably similar inflorescence structure. Subsequent study, however, revealed that the architecture, leaves, inflorescence, flowers, and seeds are structurally different in these families and that they are not closely related to each other (except for the latter two families being in the order Pandanales).

Similar patterns in epicuticular wax, in certain organic acids found in cell walls, in flavonoid compounds, and in some parasites all suggested that palms had a common ancestry with the former subclass Commelinidae; these affinities are now supported by results of DNA analyses. Ongoing developmental studies, cladistic analyses, and studies of DNA are expected to lead to more insights on the evolution and relationships of these unusual plants.

The Australian family Dasypogonaceae (also known as Calectasiacea), with four genera and 16 species, was traditionally allied with the family Liliaceae (lilies) but is now believed to be more closely related to the palms because of their common possession of ultraviolet-fluorescent compounds in the cell walls, a special type of epicuticular wax, and stomatal complexes with subsidiary cells.

Characteristics

Members of the order Arecales are outstanding for several reasons. They include some of the largest angiosperm leaves (Raphia [jupati]), inflorescences (Corypha), and seeds (Lodoicea [double coconut]). The palms exhibit more diversity than most monocotyledons. The palms also are of special interest because of their long fossil record and structural diversity.

The Arecaceae have one of the longest and most extensive fossil records of any family of the monocots, extending some 80 million years ago to the Late Cretaceous Period. The Arecaceae are structurally very diverse and one of the most distinctive groups in the monocots. They differ from close relatives in always lacking sympodial branching below a terminal inflorescence, in having leaves with a nonplicate (non-fan-shaped) marginal strip that is shed during development, and in having a tubular leaf sheath. Palms also have collateral, rather than compound, vascular bundles in their stems and silica bodies that are borne in specialized cells (stegmata) throughout. Vessels, often with simple perforation plates, are found in roots, stems, and leaves.

The distinctive pattern of development of the compound leaves of the palms is one of the unique features of this family and differs from all other flowering plants. In most plants with compound leaves, each pinna of the leaf develops from a separate meristem that grows independently from the rest of the leaf. In the palms, however, the compound nature of the leaves is derived from a single meristem that forms a plicated simple blade that then undergoes lateral cell degradation along the folds of the blade, leading to the formation of separate pinnae.

The palm inflorescences may be huge and branched to six levels. Thirty-five genera of palms bear spadixlike inflorescences and associated spathelike bracts. Spathes in the Arecaceae, however, are bracts of different kinds and are therefore not always homologous either to each other or to spathes of other monocots. The spathes may be large and colourful or rather leaflike, and they function to protect the flowers as well as to encourage animal pollination.

Economic importance

Second only to the grasses among the monocots in economic importance, the palms provide multiple local and commercial uses in the tropical habitats where they are found. Palms provide various sources of food, including starches (sago in the Pacific Islands from the genus Metroxylon), oils (from the African genus Elaeis), and sugars (from the Asian toddy palm Caryota urens), as well as stimulants from the betel nut palm (Areca catechu). Construction materials for thatch are provided by many genera and species throughout the tropics. In addition, such genera as Phytelephas and its relatives in the forests of South America (vegetable ivory) yield materials for buttons, while some other palms (Ceroxylon) are a source of waxes.

 

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