About Dates

Date palms were one of the earliest cultivated fruit trees.  The cultivation of date palms originated in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) about 5,000 years ago.  Dates are mentioned in the Bible and the Koran.  The “tree of life,” date palms provide not only food, but ornamentation, construction material, fiber and fuel.  The Moors brought date palm trees to Spain and in turn Spanish missionaries brought date palm seeds to the New World and planted them around their missions in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Most of these missions were in coastal areas and the date palms did not produce high quality fruit due to the cool, humid conditions.  Date palms planted by the Spanish missionaries in drier, warmer areas did flourish and provided inspiration for settlers in California and Arizona to cultivate date palms.  Many seedling dates were planted in these two states after the Mexican American War and the California Gold Rush.

In the early 1900s the United States Department of Agriculture imported date shoots from Iraq and Egypt and planted them in areas in California, New Mexico and Arizona.  When the experiments in California’s Coachella Valley showed promise, additional date shoots were imported from Algeria.  Today, two California counties, Riverside (which includes the Coachella Valley) and Imperial (which includes the Bard Valley) produce 90% of the dates grown in the United States.

Medjool (an Arabic word whose meaning in unknown) dates are considered the “King of Dates” and are prized for their large size, moist soft flesh, excellent taste, and attractive appearance.  All medjool dates originated from a single palm in the Bou Denib Oasis in Saharan Morocco.  In the early 1900s disease killed the bulk of the Moroccan medjool date palms.  In 1927 eleven offshoots of medjool date palms were imported into the United States by Dr. Walter Swingle.  These offshoots were quarantined by being planted in a remote area in Southern Nevada.  In 1936, nine of the original eleven offshoots had survived and were relocated to the U.S. Date Garden in Indio, California.   In the early 1940s the medjool date palm offshoots were distributed to growers in California and Arizona.  Medjool dates are the dominant variety of dates grown in the Bard Valley.  Currently 70-75 % of the California date crop is the Deglet Noor variety and 20-25% is the Medjool variety. 

Sources:  Imported and American varieties of dates (Phoenix dactylifera) in the United States by Donald R. Hodel, Dennis V. Johnson, Roy Wesley Nixon. Oakland, CA:  ANR Publications, 2007 ; “Date Palm” article in the Food Museum Online website, http://www.foodmuseum.com/datepalm.html