General Description / Cultural Significance
Both history and genetic testing shows Iraq to be the birthplace of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. Iraq is where the tree was domesticated and has been cultivated since 4000 B.C. It is the site of old civilization and palm dates have been important there traditionally. They are a main crop, as well as a symbol of the country, as seen on their money. The people of Iraq have heavily used this tree for food, medicine, furniture, and a sundry of domestic utensils. Basra, the country’s second largest city, is known to the world for its high quality of dates, which include seven primary varieties—Hillawi, Khadrawi, Sayer, Maktoom, Derri, Ashrasi, and Barhee.
Climate Change/Conservation Status
At one point, Iraq produced three quarters of the world’s dates. Today, it only produces five percent. War, pollution, and climate change have made it very difficult for this tree and its fruit that once thrived.
According to environmentalists, 1950s Iraq once was the domain of 33 million date palms. Now just nine million date palms remain. Critical issues of climate change are impacting the date trees and all agriculture. Rising temperatures, intense droughts, desertification, increasing numbers of dust storms and water scarcity have all put the date palm in decline.
Even though there is little conservation status information on Phoenix dactylifera, there are significant studies that document the decline of Iraq’s iconic date palms. However there are also large-scale projects to revive date plant crops. One such project, started in 2020, is planting 80,000 palm trees in the Iraqi desert, along with wells and hydraulic systems for watering and nourishing the date palms.
“80,000 palm trees in the Iraqi desert.” Reuters 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5zyUkRc2bA.
Adel Ahmed Abul Soad & Shri Mohan Jain. “Biodiversity and Conservation of Date Palm.” ResearchGate December 2017. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322057001_Biodiversity_and_Conservation_of_Date_Palm.
“Date growing crisis in Iraq’s ‘black land.’ Middle East Eye January 25, 2021. https://www.middleeasteye.net/discover/date-growing-persists-iraqs-basra-despite-war-and-environmental-crisis.
Khierallah H.S.M., Bader S.M., Ibrahim K.M., Al-Jboory I.J. “Date Palm Status and Perspective in Iraq.” Date Palm Genetic Resources and Utilization 2015, p. 97-152. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-017-9707-8_4.
Mission of Iraq to the United Nations, Original Research for World Sensorium, World Sensorium Original Website.