Date Palm Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seed Is a Dad

CC BY 2.0. Dr. Avishai Teicher/Wikimedia Commons

Break out the cigars! Long the only lonely representative of its kind, the Judean palm in now reproducing and giving researchers a unique glimpse back in time.

Talk about perseverance, not to mention the mastery of nature’s design when it comes to plants. Decades ago a 2,000-year-old seed was plucked from an archaeological excavation near the Dead Sea. After many years lingering in a researcher's drawer in Tel Aviv, Elaine Solowey, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, decided to give germination a go. Ten years later, and “Methuselah” (why don’t all plants have names?) is thriving. And not only thriving, but reproducing. Mazel tov!

Methuselah is a Judean date palm, a variety that was wiped out sometime in the 6th century, making the lonely male long the only one of its kind. Genetic testing reveal that Methuselah is closely related to an ancient variety of date palm from Egypt called Hayany – which corresponds with the legend indicating that dates came to Israel with the Exodus, Solowey says.

"It is pretty clear that Methuselah is a western date from North Africa rather than from Iraq, Iran, Babylon," she tells National Geographic. "You can't confirm a legend, of course."

But she can confirm that the maturing palm, which in now 10 years old, can procreate.

"He is a big boy now. He is over three meters [ten feet] tall, he's got a few offshoots, he has flowers, and his pollen is good," Solowey says. "We pollinated a female with his pollen, a wild female, and yeah, he can make dates."

Solowey continues to work with palms and has grown other date palms from ancient seeds found in archeological sites around the Dead Sea, as well.

"I'm trying to figure out how to plant an ancient date grove," she says. And if she can reach her magical green thumb back into time and succeed in bringing forth a modern grove of ancient trees, it might provide for a unique insight into history.

"We would know what kind of dates they ate in those days and what they were like,” she says. “That would be very exciting."