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T e city names of Palm Springs and Palm Desert refl ect

the signifi cance that these plants have on the “branding” of the local area. While there are many species of palms now grown in this low desert region there are only two that may vie for laying claim to being the signature tree of the Coachella Valley. T ey both bear the sobriquet “Tree of Life” in their homelands. One is a native son that has graced the moist sands of the local washes and fi ssured fault lines for tens of thousands of years, the state’s only indigenous palm, the California fan palm (Washingtonia fi lifera). T e other is a relative newcomer to the Valley’s environs but brings with it a rich cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). How did the date palm become so eminent?

Cultivated date palms have their roots in antiquity– the irrigated valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, present day Iraq, and dating back six to eight thousand years. T is treasured botanical resource then spread

across the fabled Assyrian and Babylonian empires taking with it the three hundred and sixty uses ascribed to it in an ancient Persian poem cited by Pliny. T e palm and its civilization and army fueling crop of fruits was venerated throughout southwestern Asia and southern Europe but only bore its bountiful crop in the hot dry regions of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

T e date palm fi rst came to the New World most likely via seeds carried by the Spanish missionaries and was planted in the equable climates of California and Florida. While the trees planted in southern California in the eighteenth century fared well enough they failed to produce their life supporting crop to any satisfying degree. T roughout the nineteenth century date palms were occasionally grown from seed in the U.S. Date palms do not grow true from seed and the only sure way to duplicate the desired qualities of a specifi c fruit is to remove and plant the off shoots growing at the base of the tree. 11

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