Extinct Tree Makes a Comeback, Thanks to Ancient Jar of Seeds

Written by Stephen Messenger

For thousands of years, Judean date palm trees were one of the most recognizable and welcome sights for people living in the Middle East — widely cultivated throughout the region for their sweet fruit, and for the cool shade they offered from the blazing desert sun.

From its founding some 3,000 years ago, to the dawn of the Common Era, the trees became a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, even garnering several shout-outs in the Old Testament. Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom’s chief symbols of good fortune; King David named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant’s name in Hebrew.

By the time the Roman Empire sought to usurp control of the kingdom in 70 AD, broad forests of these trees flourished as a staple crop to the Judean economy — a fact that made them a prime resource for the invading army to destroy. Sadly, around the year 500 AD, the once plentiful palm had been completely wiped out, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.

In the centuries that followed, first-hand knowledge of the tree slipped from memory to legend. Up until recently, that is.

During excavations at the site of Herod the Great‘s palace in Israel in the early 1960s, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.

“I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?” said Solowey. She was soon proven wrong.

Amazingly, the multi-millennial seed did indeed sprout, producing a sapling no one had seen in centuries, becoming the oldest known tree seed to germinate.

Today, the living archeological treasure continues to grow and thrive; In 2011, it even produced its first flower — a heartening sign that the ancient survivor was eager to reproduce. It has been proposed that the tree be cross-bred with closely related palm types, but it would likely take years for it to begin producing any of its famed fruits. Meanwhile, Solowey is working to revive other age-old trees from their long dormancy.

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

112 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

GREGORY ROBERTS
GREGORY ROBERTS2 years ago

WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP ON SOMETHING. YOU CAN NOT FATHOM WHAT COULD HAPPEN EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN COMPLETELY GONE, LOST, OR EXTINCT.
IF A PLANT LIKE THIS WANTS TO LIVE IT WILL SO WE NEED TO PLANT A SEED AND SEE IT RISE, BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE ONLY PLANTS. CHILDREN CAN BE MIRACLES ALSO. DO NOT GIVE UP ON THEM EITHER EVEN THE ONES WHO DON'T SPEAK OR SEE OR HEAR. THEY WILL AMAZE YOU WITH WHAT THEY DO HAVE. ADULTS ALSO.

Jacklyn W.
Jacklyn Walker2 years ago

Ex-seeded growing inspirations - smile

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

More proof the Bible is true. God is amazing!

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Oh, a jar of seeds, always useful!

Jane H.
Jane H.2 years ago

good and amazing news! Thanks

Grace K.
Grace Kennedy2 years ago

Nature is amazing! I applaud the scientist as well.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.2 years ago

ty

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana2 years ago

Great and hope generating news!

D D.
Dolores D.2 years ago

Truly amazing.....thank you.