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2000 year old date palm seed

According to "...Israeli researchers have germinated a sapling date palm from 2,000-year-old seeds...". Some additional information is also published.

Comments (4)

  • marie_in_wa
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I found an article about this and was coming here to post it LOL


    Seed of extinct date palm sprouts after 2,000 years
    - Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
    Sunday, June 12, 2005

    Kibbutz Ketura, Israel -- It has five leaves, stands 14 inches high and is
    nicknamed Methuselah. It looks like an ordinary date palm seedling, but for
    UCLA- educated botanist Elaine Solowey, it is a piece of history brought
    back to life.

    Planted on Jan. 25, the seedling growing in the black pot in Solowey's
    nursery on this kibbutz in Israel's Arava desert is 2,000 years old -- more
    than twice as old as the 900-year-old biblical character who lent his name
    to the young tree. It is the oldest seed ever known to produce a viable
    young tree.

    The seed that produced Methuselah was discovered during archaeological
    excavations at King Herod's palace on Mount Masada, near the Dead Sea. Its
    age has been confirmed by carbon dating. Scientists hope that the unique
    seedling will eventually yield vital clues to the medicinal properties of
    the fruit of the Judean date tree, which was long thought to be extinct.

    Solowey, originally from San Joaquin (Fresno County), teaches at the Arava
    Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura, where she has
    nurtured more than 100 rare or near-extinct species back to life as part of
    a 10-year project to study plants and herbs used as ancient cures.

    In collaboration with the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center at
    Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, named in honor of its Southern California-
    based benefactor, Solowey grows plants and herbs used in Tibetan, Chinese
    and biblical medicine, as well as traditional folk remedies from other
    cultures to see whether their effectiveness can be scientifically proved.

    In experiments praised by the Dalai Lama, for example, Borick Center
    Director Sarah Sallon has shown that ancient Tibetan cures for
    cardiovascular disease really do work.

    The San Francisco Chronicle was granted the first viewing of the historic
    seedling, which sprouted about four weeks after planting. It has grown six
    leaves, but one has been removed for DNA testing so scientists can learn
    more about its relationship to its modern-day cousins.

    The Judean date is chronicled in the Bible, Quran and ancient literature
    for its diverse powers -- from an aphrodisiac to a contraceptive -- and as a
    cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria and toothache.

    For Christians, the palm is a symbol of peace associated with the entry of
    Jesus into Jerusalem. The ancient Hebrews called the date palm the "tree of
    life" because of the protein in its fruit and the shade given by its long
    leafy branches. The Arabs said there were as many uses for the date palm as
    there were days in the year.

    Greek architects modeled their Ionic columns on the tree's tall, thin
    trunk and curling, bushy top. The Romans called it Phoenix dactylifera --
    "the date-bearing phoenix" -- because it never died and appeared to be
    reborn in the desert where all other plant life perished.

    Now Solowey and her colleagues have brought this phoenix of the desert
    back to life after 2,000 years.

    The ancient seeds were found 30 years ago during archeological excavations
    on Mount Masada, the mountaintop fortress on the shore of the Dead Sea where
    King Herod built a spectacular palace. When the Romans conquered Palestine
    and laid waste to the Temple in Jerusalem, Masada was the last stand of a
    small band of Jewish rebels who held out against three Roman legions for
    several years before committing mass suicide in A.D. 73.

    Archaeologist Ehud Netzer found the seeds, which were identified by the
    department of botanical archaeology at Israel's Bar-Ilan University. Then
    they were placed in storage, where they lay for 30 years until Sallon heard
    about the cache.

    "When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, 'You're
    mad,' but they gave us three seeds," she said.

    Sallon took the seeds to Solowey, who has cultivated more than 3,000 date
    palms and rarities like the trees that produce the fragrant resins
    frankincense and myrrh. Solowey admits she was skeptical about the chances
    of success with this project.

    "When I received the seeds from Sarah, I thought the chances of this
    experiment succeeding were less than zero," said Solowey, cradling the
    precious seedling in a specially quarantined section of her nursery on the
    kibbutz. "But Dr. Sallon insisted and I took this very seriously. Lotus
    seeds over 1,000 years old have been sprouted, and I realized that no one
    had done any similar work with dates, so why not give it our best shot --
    and we were rewarded."

    The three seeds were long and thin, grayish-brown in color. Solowey soaked
    them in warm water, and then added gibberellic acid, a potent growth hormone
    used to induce germination in reluctant seeds. Next, she added a special
    rooting hormone for woody plants called T8 and an enzyme-rich fertilizer to
    supplement the natural food inside it. She then planted it in sterile
    potting soil on the Jewish festival of trees, which this year fell on Jan.

    Solowey placed the pots in her nursery and tended to them each day for a
    month, not expecting anything to happen.

    "Much to my astonishment, after five weeks, a small little date shoot came
    up," she says. "It was pale, almost whitish green. The first two leaves were
    abnormal-looking. They were very flat and very pale. The third leaf started
    to have the striations of a normal date plant. Now it looks perfectly normal
    to me.

    "The only difference between this date seedling and any other date
    seedlings I've seen come up is the length of the third leaf. This is very
    unusual," she said, pointing out one very long, thin leaf growing out of the

    "It's certainly the oldest tree seed that's ever been sprouted. Wheat
    seeds from pharaohs' tombs have been sprouted, but none of the plants have
    survived for very long. Before this, the oldest seed grown was a lotus from
    China, which was 1,200 years old," she said. "I'm very excited. I wasn't
    expecting anything to happen. I'm really interested in finding out what the
    DNA testing is going to show. I know that date seeds can stay alive for
    several decades. To find out that they can stay alive for millennia is

    Date palms are either male or female, but it's too early to tell the sex
    of Methuselah. Normally, female trees begin to bear fruit after about five

    "We have to figure out where we can put it so it can grow to maturity.
    Then we'll hope that it grows up and flowers so we can figure out whether
    it's male or female, and then it has offshoots and seeds so we can propagate
    it. It's very exciting to think that maybe someday we can eat 2,000-year-old
    dates, but there's a 50 percent chance that it's a male, in which case that
    won't happen," she said.

    Sallon trained as a pediatrician and gastroenterologist, and she once
    worked with Mother Teresa at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Calcutta.
    She founded the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center 10 years ago and is
    a world-renowned expert on the medical properties of plants. "It feels
    remarkable to see this seed growing, to see it coming out of the soil after
    2, 000 years. It's a very moving and exciting moment," she said.

    The two researchers hope the reborn tree will provide valuable information
    about the Judean economy and society at the time of Jesus.

    Once the seed sprouted, samples of seeds excavated from the same cache on
    Masada were sent to the University of Zurich for radio-carbon dating. The
    results came back last week, showing the samples were 2,000 years old, plus
    or minus a margin of error of 50 years, placing them during or just before
    the Masada revolt.

    "Perhaps one of our ancestors was sitting there on the battlements of
    Masada eating his dates while the Roman armies were preparing for the final
    siege and perhaps nonchalantly spitting out a pip," said Sallon. "Two
    thousand years later, here I am at Kibbutz Ketura and it's grown."

    The sixth leaf has been sent to the Volcani Centre, Israel's agricultural
    research institute, for DNA testing by date palm expert Yuval Cohen.

    "I find it remarkable," said Cohen. "Two thousand years ago, during the
    Roman Empire, Israel was known for the quality of its dates. They were
    famous throughout the Roman Empire. But date growing as a commercial fruit
    export stopped at the end of 70 A.D., when the Second Temple was destroyed
    by the Romans. From then, the tradition was lost.

    "It's an interesting question what were the ancient dates like. We hope by
    genetic analysis, we can learn more about the character of the ancient date

    When the Romans invaded ancient Judea, thick forests of date palms
    towering up to 80 feet high and 7 miles wide covered the Jordan River valley
    from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the
    south. The tree so defined the local economy that Emperor Vespasian
    celebrated the conquest by minting the "Judea Capta," a special bronze coin
    that showed the Jewish state as a weeping woman beneath a date palm.

    Today, nothing remains of those mighty forests. The date palms in modern
    Israel were imported, mainly from California. The ancient Judean date,
    renowned for its succulence and famed for its many medicinal properties, had
    been lost to history.

    Until now.

    Page A - 1

    2005 San Francisco Chronicle

  • ademink
    17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wow, what a cool post!!!!

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    Zeeth yes that is pretty fascinating but not normal. That palm looks 3 to 4 yrs old in the pic. Do you think its possible it stayed in the pot to long and then planted out ? Do you have from seed to present pics ? Would love to see that progression to see that fast growth in pictures. I have pushed palms with fertilizer and they grow fast but sometimes they have problems like trunk splitting later on. Given the way most people grow palms like fertilizing once A year "maybe" I doubt you would get that growth. I think the palm you have is exceptional for that amount of time.
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  • pickwick
    17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    ....yes,that is the good stuff... the plant species we are working with correlated with historical and cultural accounts.... I had a similiar opportunity a couple of decades ago when a botany professor tracked me down and handed me some seed of a newly re-discovered plant growing in isolated canyons of Mexico.... She said to me: "Here. See what you can do with it."

  • hutch123
    17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago