The Judean Palm Tree: Redefining "Back From The Dead"!

One 2,000-year-old Judean Palm Tree seed has been keeping very busy! 

Considered to be extinct, the ancient Judean palm tree, nicknamed Methuselah after the oldest person named in the Old Testament of the Bible, has not only been sprouting- it has recently started pollinating! 

So what is this tree all about?

The Judean Palm Tree was once found in Israel in great abundance, but became extinct around 500 AD due to conquests in the region. Historically speaking, the palm tree was recognized as a symbol of the Judean Desert as it was an integral source of food, shelter and shade for thousands of years.

This tree also provided food for the Jews who protected the fortress of Masada from the Romans in 70 A.D., before they killed themselves to avoid surrender after the two year siege. Ancient records document the Jews’ plight, including the contents and locations of their food stores. Sure enough, dates from the Judean Palm were cited as an important source of nourishment for the Jews at Masada. 

The tree became a thing of legend until, in the 1960s, excavations at the site of Herod the Great’s palace at Masada unearthed some old seeds hidden in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years.

The seeds were stored away until 2005, when Sarah Sallon, director of the Hadassah Medical Organization's Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center in Jerusalem, hoped to find unique medicinal properties that are not seen in the dates produced by the palms of today.

Ms. Sallon launched the Germination of Ancient Seed Program in conjunction with her Middle Eastern Medicinal Plant project, through which she works with Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors to develop and conserve the medicinal plants of the area. "Plants have no borders,” Ms. Sallon has expressed. Furthermore, she believes in the potential to be found in their medicinal properties.

To be able to study the potential of the fruit, the ancient seed needed to be resurrected!

The seeds were then passed to Elaine Solowey, the director of the experimental orchard and NMRC cultivation site at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel. Elaine planted one of the ancient seeds to see if anything would sprout. She has said, “I had to think very hard how I could sprout them, because you only get one chance."

Amazingly, the seed did sprout and Methuselah became the oldest known tree to germinate!

Since 2005, the tree has grown to reach 10 feet and, in 2011, it pollinated to produce its first flower. In March of this year, news came out that not only has Methuselah been producing more flowers, his pollen has been effective in pollinating with a wild female of another, but similar, species to create delicious dates! 

Today, the team continues to work with palms from ancient seeds found in archaeological sites around the Dead Sea to eventually plant an ancient date grove. However, they are still searching for a female of the Judean Palm species to assure the survival of the tree. The researchers hope that these new dates can be used as they were in ancient times, when date palms were known to cure many diseases and infections, promote longevity, and act as a mild aphrodisiac. This will be a truly fascinating way to get a taste of history! 

Author: Gal Shyli Dayan