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The tree itself is utilized in many different ways, as timber, building material, handicrafts, rope and feed for animals. The most common date palm in North Africa and the Middle East is Phoenix dactylifera, which can grow as high as 25 metres, with a crown holding as many as 100 green barbed leaves.
The origins of the date palm cannot be stated with certainty, as there is evidence of its existence in the Middle East throughout history, and date pits as old as 6500 years have been found in Egypt.
It takes about 8 years for the date palm to bear fruit, but it does not reach maturity until 30 years. The full life of a date palm exceeds 100 years.
Fruiting normally results from human interference, through which male blossoms are placed in the crown of a female date palm, or in the more modern way, through blowing pollen by a tube into the female crown. In general, the need for male date palms is 1 to 50 of sfemale trees, and an effective correlation between the two must be maintained through cultivation.
The dates grow in bunches, weighing as much as 12 kg. The Phoenix dactylifera can have as many as 1,000 dates in one bunch. One tree can have as much as 100 kg of dates.
In order to increase the output, the female blossoms are pruned, and the bunches are bagged to protect them from rain, as well as birds and insects. There are three categories of dates, according to cultivation choices: soft, which dominate in world trade; semi-dry, often considered as the best; dry, which often are ground to flour, or can even be eaten as they are.
Dates are highly nutritious, full of sugar (60%), fat (2%), protein (2%), and minerals (2%), and are either dried to be eaten, or used for producing wine, or arak, a popular alcoholic beverage in the Levant.
Date production necessitates a climate with much sun, minimal rain, yet good access to water, which to a large extent is only provided by oases. The economy around dates is often diversified, as the ground between the palms trees is used for many other plants. However, dates are the main produce and serve as the principal basis for a barter economy, as well as for sales to cities or to export markets.