x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Plant Library: Date palm

This tree is a source of food, shelter, fuel and clothing in traditional Bedouin life.

I suppose I should be careful about what I say about the date palm in a country where it is arguably the national symbol. Along with the camel and the traditional khanjar, the date palm is a constant presence in traditional Bedouin life, being a source of food, shelter, fuel and clothing.

Not surprisingly perhaps, date palms are supposed to outnumber humans in the UAE by five to one, and the country's date industry represents around six per cent of global date production. These facts alone should be enough to tell you that the date palm is a tree that belongs in the oasis and not in the smaller garden, but I know this will be an unpopular statement with many readers.

My reasoning is as follows: few private gardens in the UAE are of sufficient size to accommodate such a large tree; there are many other species that are better at providing shade; and, finally, a mature date palm is extremely thirsty, needing anything up to 120 litres of water a day if it is to bear fruit. That other national symbol, the ghaf tree, outperforms the date palm every time when it comes to shade and irrigation, so when it comes to patriotism and local flora, why not grow one of those in your garden instead?