Phoenix theophrasti

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Phoenix (FEH-niks)
Forest at Vai, Sitia, Greece. Photo by Tjaart Molenkamp
Scientific Classification
Genus: Phoenix (FEH-niks)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: solitary or clumped
Leaf type: pinnate
Height: 10-15 m
Trunk diameter: 40-60 cm
Sun exposure: full
Survivability index
Common names
Cretan Date Palm, Vaion (palm leaf), (Crete).

Habitat and Distribution

East Aegean Is., Kriti, and Turkey.
Preveli beach in Crete (Greece), is one of two locations in the European Mediterranean where this rare species of palm exits. Photo:. Vernon Heywood
The species was first described from Vai in Crete, and is now recorded from nine coastal localities on that island (Turland et al. 1993). Since 1982 (Boydak 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987; Boydak & Yaka 1983) the species has been recorded from the Data Peninsula and Kumluca-Kara6z regions of south western Anatolia in Turkey from sea-level to 350 m. A third locality for Phoenix in Turkey was recorded by Boydak & Barrow (1995) from Gölköy near Bodrum. The history of this population and its identity are unclear but I consider it most likely to be referrable to P. dactylifera. Phoenix theophrasti is found in coastal areas, either on steep calcareous cliffs and rocks within a few metres of the sea, or somewhat inland along moist valley floors, stream banks and rocky gullies. Occurrence of the palms invariably indicates a water-source. Salt tolerance of the species enables it to survive combined pressures of exposure to coastal winds and sea water. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.

Sites on Crete include Vai in the Lasithi Prefecture, Ayios Nikitas in Heraklion Prefecture, and Preveli gorge and Souda near Plakias, both on the south coasts of Crete in Rethymnon Prefecture. Trees are also found on Amorgos island, and the south coast of Anafi island. Recently, around 10 trees, the only natural stand on the mainland, were found in an ancient palm forest in the Epidaurus area in Peloponnese. It has been proposed that, in Ancient Greece, there were many more, growing from Crete to Thebes, and from the Peloponnese to Delos. There are also four stands in southwest Turkey, especially on the Datça and Bodrum Peninsulas in Muğla Province. Areas forested with Phoenix theophrasti, Phoenix canariensis and Chamaerops humilis constitute Europe's only palm forests.

Native to southern Greece (Crete) and southwestern Turkey (Datça Peninsula). On Crete, there are eight subpopulations; the largest contains a few thousand individuals. Four subpopulations are known in Turkey.


Clustering palm. Stem to 17 m tall, without leaf sheaths about 50 cm in diam., with leaves persistent in upper trunk, otherwise with persistent, diamond-shaped leaf bases. Leaves obliquely vertical in orientation, about 2 - 4 m long; leaf sheath fibrous, reddish-brown; pseudopetiole 50 - 70 cm long; acanthophylls irregularly arranged in more than one plane, to 10 on each side of rachis, yellow to orange-green; leaflets irregularly arranged in one to two planes of orientation, about 65 - 100 on each side of rachis, stiff, to 50 x 2 cm; lamina concolorous, glaucous, surfaces often white with waxy coating. Staminate inflorescences erect; prophyll coriaceous, splitting twice between margins, about 45 x 8 cm; peduncle to about 40 cm long; rachillae to about 10 cm long. Staminate flowers yellow-white, with strong musty scent; calyx cupule 2 - 3 mm high; petals 3 (rarely 4), 8 x 3.5 mm; stamens 6 (rarely 7). Pistillate inflorescences erect arching slightly with fruit maturity; prophyll to 50 x 6 cm; peduncle elongating on fruit set, to about 70 cm; rachillae to about 80 in number, elongating on fruit set, to about 50 cm long. Pistillate flowers yellow-white, with 3-lobed calyx cupule 2 - 2.5 mm high; petals 3 (rarely 4), 2 x 3 mm. Fruit oblong, about 15 x 10 mm, green-yellow to brown, with sparse, mealy, sweet mesocarp. Seed with rounded apices, 11 - 13 x 6 - 7 mm; embryo lateral opposite raphe; endosperm homogeneous. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.


Comments and Curiosities

Similar to Phoenix dactylifera in overall appearance but usually shorter, not over 15 m tall. The fruit is a small date with only a thin, sour-tasting flesh layer around the seed.

Uses: In Crete leaves of R theophrasti are used in Palm Sunday celebrations, just as leaves of P. dactylifera are used elsewhere. (S.C. Barrow. 1998)/Palmweb.

"In Seattle these are susceptable to rot, so don't water them too much in winter, but in summer you can. They have edible dates too." (Kyle Wicomb)

Conservation: IUCN ReadList - Lower Risk/near threatened. 1998. On Crete, there are eight sub-populations; the largest contains a few thousand individuals. Four subpopulations are known in Turkey.

"Probably THE original date palm from which Phoenix dactylifera, the edible date, was derived from. It is native to the coasts of Turkey and Crete and looks a lot like a date palm. The main differences is it has a bit more color in the spines and it much spinier, nastier palm (be very careful around this one)-every single leaf ends in a very sharp, stiff barb. In my opinion, this is one of the most dangerous palms there are. The other difference I have noticed is this one is a super aggressive clumper-makes LOTS of suckers and is a constant chore (and a very dangerous one) to keep the suckers down to a minimum. Don't recommend leaving all the suckers or you will eventually have a massive, tightly spaced grove of deadly sharp, impenetrable palm trees. Very drought, wind and heat tolerant." (Geoff Stein)

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

S.C. Barrow, A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae). 1998. A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae). Kew Bulletin, Vol. 53, No. 3 (1998), pp. 513-575.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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