Phoenix (plant)

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Phoenix dactylifera100 4209.JPG
Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Arecales
Family: Arecaceae
Subfamily: Coryphoideae
Tribe: Phoeniceae
Genus: Phoenix
  • Elate L.
  • Palma Mill.
  • Dachel Adans.
  • Phoniphora Neck.
  • Fulchironia Lesch.
  • Zelonops Raf.
General view of the shape of a Phoenix leaf
Metamorphosed leaflets into spines, common to Phoenix
Phoenix foliage showing V-shaped leaflets

Phoenix is a genus of 14 species of palms, native to an area starting from the Canary Islands in the west, across northern and central Africa, to the extreme southeast of Europe (Crete), and continuing throughout southern Asia from Turkey east to southern China and Malaysia.[3] The diverse habitats they occupy include swamps, deserts, and mangrove sea coasts. Most Phoenix species originate in semiarid regions, but usually occur near high groundwater levels, rivers, or springs. The genus is unusual among members of subfamily Coryphoideae in having pinnate, rather than palmate leaves; tribe Caryoteae also have pinnate or bipinnate leaves.[4]

The palms were more numerous and widespread in the past than they are at present.[citation needed] Some Phoenix palms have become naturalised in other parts of the world; in particular, the date palm's long history of cultivation means that escaped plants in the past have long-since become ingrained into the native ecosystems of countries far from its original range in the Middle East.


The generic name derives from φοῖνιξ (phoinix) or φοίνικος (phoinikos), the Greek word for the date palm used by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. It most likely referred to either the Phoenicians; Phoenix, the son of Amyntor and Cleobule in Homer's Iliad; or the phoenix, the sacred bird of Ancient Egypt.[5]


This genus is mostly medium to robust in size, but also includes a few dwarf species; trunks are solitary in four species, suckering and clumped in nine, of which one has a prostrate ground trunk. Many of the trunked species do not form above-ground stems for several years. The pinnate leaves, 1–6 m long, all share the common feature of metamorphosed lower-leaf segments into long, vicious spines (acanthophylls). The leaves have short or absent petioles and possess the rare feature among pinnate palms of induplicate (V-shaped) leaflets. The plants are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants; pollination is by both wind and insect. The flowers are inconspicuous yellowish-brown and about 1 cm wide, but grouped on conspicuous large multibranched panicles 30–90 cm long. The inflorescence emerges from a usually boat-shaped, leathery bract, forming large, pendent clusters. Phoenix fruit develops from one carpel as a berry, 1–7 cm long, yellow to red-brown or dark purple when mature, with one elongated, deeply grooved seed.


A majority of the forest palms grow under the shade of dominating forests trees along fragile hill slopes and stream courses in warm, humid conditions. The palms are found growing on a wide variety of soils, often extending to degraded forest margins in grasslands. In the tropics, most are found below 1250 m altitude. Branching of the aerial trunk is rare and is mainly induced by injury to the terminal growing bud. Flowering and fruit are regular and annual. The reproduction is by seeds and by vegetative multiplication. Many species of Phoenix produce vegetative offshoots called bulbils from basal portions of their stems which, on rooting, develop new saplings. Close relationship among the 14 species is illustrated by the ease of hybridisation and cross-pollination.[6] Several natural hybrids were hence obtained: P. dactylifera × P. sylvestris (India), P. dactylifera × P. canariensis (Morocco, Algeria and Israel), and P. dactylifera × P. reclinata (Senegal). Phoenix species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Paysandisia archon and the Batrachedra species B. amydraula (recorded on P. dactylifera), B. arenosella and B. isochtha (feeds exclusively on Phoenix spp.).


The fruit of P. dactylifera, the date of commerce, is large with a thick layer of fruit pulp, edible, very sweet and rich in sugar; the other species have only a thin layer of fruit pulp. The central soft part of the stem of P. rupicola, P. acaulis, and P. humilis is a rich source of starch. Palms are felled to extract this central ‘pith’ which is dried, powdered, stored and used for preparation of bread by Indian natives.[7] The P. canariensis sap is cooked to a sweet, thick syrup. P. sylvestris Roxb. is widely used in India as a source of sugar. The sugary sap from some African palms yields country liquor on fermentation (palm wine).

While P. dactylifera is grown for its edible dates, the Canary Island date palm (P. canariensis) and pygmy date palm (P. roebelenii) are widely grown as ornamental plants, but their dates are used as food for livestock and poultry. The Canary Island date palm differs from the date palm in having a stouter trunk, more leaves to the crown, more closely spaced leaflets, and deep green rather than grey-green leaves. The fruit of P. canariensis is edible, but rarely eaten by humans because of their small size and thin flesh.

The different species of the genus frequently hybridise where they grow in proximity. This can be a problem when planting P. canariensis as an ornamental plant, as the hybrid palms are aesthetically inferior and do not match the pure-bred plants when planted in avenues, etc.


P. sylvestris synonym Phoenix sylvestris has edible sweet fruits.
  • Phoenix acaulis Roxb. – dwarf date palm – Himalayas
  • Phoenix andamanensis S.C.Barrow – Andaman Islands
  • Phoenix atlantica A.Chev., Cape Verde palm, endemic to the Cape Verde Islands, erroneously characterized as a feral P. dactylifera[8][9]
  • Phoenix caespitosa Chiov. – Djibouti, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman
  • Phoenix canariensis Chabaud – Canary Island date palm – native to Canary Islands, naturalized in Spain, Italy, Australia, Bermuda
  • Phoenix dactylifera L. – date palm – probably native to southwestern Asia, naturalized in Spain, Azores, Madeira, northern and western Africa, Mauritius, Réunion, China, India, Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, California, Baja California, Sonora, El Salvador, Caribbean
  • Phoenix loureiroi Kunth (syn. P. humilis) – China, India, Himalayas, Indochina, Philippines
  • Phoenix paludosa Roxb. – mangrove date palm – Indian Subcontinent, Indochina, Sumatra, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
  • Phoenix pusilla Gaertn. – Ceylon date palm – India, Sri Lanka
  • Phoenix reclinata Jacq. – Senegal date palm – Africa, Comoros, Madagascar, Arabian Peninsula
  • Phoenix roebelenii O'Brien – pygmy date palm – Yunnan, Indochina
  • Phoenix rupicola T.Anderson – cliff date palm – Assam, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, naturalized in Andaman Islands and West Indies
  • Phoenix sylvestris (L.) Roxb. – Indian date palm – Indian Subcontinent, Myanma,; naturalized in southern China and the West Indies
  • Phoenix theophrasti Greuter – Cretan date palm[10] – Turkey, Greek Islands
View of an oasis-like area, in central western Boa Vista, Cape Verde islands, with date palms.

Fossil record[edit]

A large number of fossil woods with anatomical features resembling the genus Phoenix have been excavated from Deccan Intertrappean formation in India of Maastrichtian-Danian age (65-67 my)). Discovery of biocompounds from the fossil woods have affinity with the biocompounds known from modern Phoenix species. [11] A Phoenix seed from the latest Paleocene has been excavated from the Petit Pâtis quarry in Rivecourt, France.[12]


  1. ^ Linnaeus, Species Plantarum 1188. 1753. Type:P. dactylifera
  2. ^ "Phoenix L." Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2010-07-15.
  3. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  4. ^ Riffle, Robert L. and Craft, Paul (2003) An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms. Portland: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-558-6 / ISBN 978-0-88192-558-6
  5. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. III M-Q. CRC Press. p. 2046. ISBN 978-0-8493-2677-6.
  6. ^ Moore, 1963; Munier, 1973
  7. ^ http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/jun252004/1598.pdf
  8. ^ http://www.palms.org/palmsjournal/2003/capeverde.htm
  9. ^ Henderson, S. A. (2006). "Genetic isolation of Cape Verde Island Phoenix atlantica (Arecaceae) revealed by microsatellite markers". Conservation Genetics. 7: 213–223. doi:10.1007/s10592-006-9128-7.
  10. ^ "Species Records of Phoenix". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2010-07-15.
  11. ^ Bioinformation 2014; 10(5): 316–319. Published online 2014 May 20. doi:10.6026/97320630010316 PMC 4070043 A report on biocompounds from palm fossil of India by Dinesh Chandra Sharma, Mohd Sajid Khan, M Salman Khan, Rashmi Srivastava, Ashwini Kumar Srivastava and Ritu Shukla
  12. ^ First Clarkforkian Equivalent Land Mammal Age in the Latest Paleocene Basal Sparnacian Facies of Europe: Fauna, Flora, Paleoenvironment and (Bio)stratigraphy (vol 9, e86229, 2014) T. Smith, F. Quesnel, G. De Ploeeg and G. Metais.

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