Monday, December 9, 2013

Binomen Art – Phoenix

Left: Phoenix Spelled in Dates; Right: The Severely Trimmed Tree that Produced the Dates with a “Pineapple” Below the Fronds Created by Pruning.
Phoenix Spelled in DatesThe Severely Trimmed Tree that Produced the Date

Every time we come down to Imperial Valley by way of Indio, Coachella, and Thermal, I’m struck** by the date palm farms where Phoenix dactylifera is cultivated for its sweet drupe called dates. And while passing through, what trip would be complete without a gut-busting date shake from Shields Date Garden while watching the Romance and Sex Life of the Date film?

Left: Palm Springs Airport Taxi Booth; Center: Shields Dates Knight Sign; Right: Advertisement for the Romance & Sex Life of the Date
Palm Springs Airport Taxi BoothShields Dates Knight SignAdvertisement for the Romance & Sex Life of the Date

The dates used in this installment of Binomen Art are from a tree in a private yard a few hours south of Palm Springs in the upper Imperial Valley. There is a group of three trees, two male and one female. Beneath the female there is a carpet of dates (fruit drop). From this carpet we cleared a space to spell Phoenix.

We’ve tasted dates from this tree before and they are reasonably edible if not a little dry, after you brush off the dirt. This tree was recently trimmed and the part below the crown, called the “pineapple”, is an aesthetic choice made during the pruning. “Such pruning causes a bulge or expansion of the trunk immediately below the crown of leaves.  This is a man-made appearance and disappears if the pruning is not redone at regular intervals. “ [2]

The origin of the generic name, Phoenix, according to Quattrocchi [p. 2046] seems to be not exactly known, but has a few possibilities:

  • Phoinix, phoinkios “date palm, date, palm frond, purple, crimson,” ancient Greek name used by Theophrastus and Plinius;
  • the Phoenicians, from Phoenix, nicis, Phoenices, were the inhabitants of Phoenice, Phoenicia, the coastal territory of Syria;
  • Phoenix (Phoi), in Greek legend, was the son of Amyntor and Cleobule (see Homer, Iliad ix. 447-480);
  • the Phoenix (Phoi) was the fabulous sacred bird of Egypt (see Herodotus and Plinius);

The specific epithet, dactylifera, “’date-bearing’ comes from Ancient Greek dáktulos ‘date’ (also ‘finger’) and the stem of the Greek verb ferō ‘I bear’.” [3]

Left: Three Date Palm Trees in the Imperial Valley, the Shortest is the Female; Center: Beneath the Female Tree a Carpet of Dates; Right: Phoenix in Dates
Three Date Palm Trees in the Imperial ValleyBeneath the Female Tree a Carpet of DatesPhoenix in Dates

We cannot say much about this particular date palm in terms of its variety. If you look, for example, on the Shields site, you can see that there are a number of varieties including Medjool, Deglet Noor, Bahri, Thoory, Khadrawi, and many more. Dates were introduced to Mexico and California in the second half of the 1700s and the Coachella Valley started receiving its first imported palms in the 1880s.[4] Today, dates from Coachella make up most of the dates grown in the U.S., which in turn is only a tiny fraction of the dates grown worldwide.

An interesting fact about dates is that they require a lot of water and “[u]nless special provisions are made to accumulate and divert the surface water, rainfall has little importance in supplying the palm with its daily water requirements. In the majority of cases the cultivated date palm, therefore, has to be irrigated, either from rivers, streams, or wells.” [2]. Sure, it would survive non-irrigated situations, but we’d guess the fruit yields might not be so good.

When you drive from Palm Springs, through the Coachella, Indio, and Thermal to parts south, you see that in the date groves, bags are put around the fruit bunches to protect the date from rain and sunburn. [2]


** [re: struck by date palms] Perhaps growing up on the East Coast and never seeing these majestic plants until much later in life, they will always remain fascinating to me. Similarly, the first time I stepped foot in Southern California – visiting colleges in the 1980s, I remember the smell being instantly and pleasantly different to me. I got off the airplane (from Rochester) by stairs at Burbank and it was night. I remember being hit by all kinds of scents. Looking back, it was probably mostly eucalyptus, some jasmine, and a touch of smog.

Left: Near Niland California, a Date Farm Just Starting or Not. Right; Rows of Date Offshoot Starts Awaiting Irrigation
Near Niland California, a Date Farm Just Starting or NotRows of Date Shoot Starts Awaiting Irrigation

Left: Date Palm With Offshoot, Along a Citrus Grove Near Niland California; Right: Cut Fronds on the Ground With Dates That Are Not Fully Matured – In the Khalal Stage.
Left: Date Palms Along a Citrus Grove

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