Your guide to UAE dates: the Al Ain farm to know, the varieties and how to grow your own palms
We look at the date-cultivation procedure and offer tips on how to plant and care for your own palm trees
Date palms are as synonymous with the Middle East as oil and sand. Inextricably woven into the historical narrative and cultural lexicon of the region – and even mentioned numerous times in the Quran – dates are renowned for their antioxidant properties and other health benefits.
In fact, Phoenix dactylifera trees are among the earliest plants to have been cultivated by humankind. Locally, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding reports that date palm seeds dating back to 5110 BC were identified on Delma Island in Abu Dhabi.
Today, there are more than 40 million date palms in the UAE, and yet many of the dates sold locally are imported. It was this realisation that led Ahmed Mohammed bin Salem to create an Emirati brand, The Date Room, to retail home-grown dates. It was launched last November.
Dates from Al Ain for The Date Room
The Date Room has a production capacity of 200 tonnes of dates a year, which are grown at about 15 family-owned farms in Al Ain and the Northern Emirates. It also has two outlets, in Yas Mall and Deira City Centre, and “there are plans for more”, says executive director Tony Al Saiegh. He notes that up to 20 per cent of sales happen online, and that 50 per cent of these are gift-wrapped for occasions such as births, marriages and other celebrations. “Dates,” Al Saiegh says, “last so much longer than flowers.”
The brand also emphasises its tree-to-table ethos, and invited us to one of its Al Ain farms to see how this small fruit begins its journey. To produce dates for commercial purposes, the palm trees are pollinated manually – no small feat given that the trees can grow to a height of more than 20 metres. Farmworkers make rope harnesses, which are simultaneously hitched around the waist and the tree, gripping the trunk as the workers climb to the leafy fronds to reach the flowers.
Date palms are unique in that they are either male or female; the female trees produce the fruit. Because they have to be hand-pollinated, the farmers embark on a horticultural envoy and sling a cloth bag over their shoulder, with pollen from the male trees. At the top of the palm, the male flowers are hand-tied among the female flowers. Flowering and pollination take place between February and April, with the majority of the harvest occurring in August and September.