Scientists await flowering of two 2,000-year-old female date palms. Object: Matrimony
This story first arose several years ago, in 2005, with the sprouting of a 2,000-year-old date seed recovered archaeologically from Masada, the ancient fortress site near the Dead Sea. The little date palm was dubbed “Methuselah”, for obvious reasons. When it reached maturity, the tree was found to be a male specimen and, according to the biology of that species, incapable of producing fruit (or more date palms). All this was widely reported on at the time, some of which can be accessed via my previous post (2012, updated 2013).
Well, the saga continues to unfold. Now comes the report that a few years ago other ancient date seeds, which had been recovered from Qumran (where many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), were likewise planted: Six of them sprouted into healthy plants, two of these have now proved to be female, and one or both may well flower later this year, experts say. When (and if) one of them does, it will be fertilized with pollen from “Methuselah”, likely resulting in edible fruit, a new batch of viable seeds — and, conceivably, the widespread restoration of this long-extinct, ancient variety of date.
NPR has just reported this story (including some background on the original “Methuselah” narrative which I’d never heard before); the text version is reproduced in full below. Follow the same link to listen to the audio version (2 min.):
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Dates Like Jesus Ate? Scientists Revive Ancient Trees From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds
UPDATE — SEPT. 2020
Now, an Edible Link to Antiquity. The above story (Feb. 2020) highlighted how experts were awaiting the flowering of two female date trees grown from ancient seeds. When one of them did, it — she — was fertilized with pollen from the now 15-year-old “Methuselah”.
A few months later, the result is now the first crop of dates produced by this unusual project. The latest chapter of the story — including the results of expert taste-tests! — is told and lavishly illustrated in a New York Times story.
A 2021 BBC video (8 min.) gives the arc of this amazing story, focusing on the two women whose persistence and collaboration combined to rescue the Judean date palm from extinction after hundreds of years.