Tu B’Shevat Program

Federation participated in a Tu B’Shevat Program regarding the resuscitation of the ancient Judean date tree. Details below:

On September 2nd, 2020, the Arava Institute became the sight of the historic harvest of 111 very special dates – the first fruit of Hannah, a tree sprouted from a 2,000 year-old seed, and pollinated by another Ancient Judean date tree. Dr. Elaine Solowey, Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture of the Arava Institute, and Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center of Hadassah Hospital, harvested these ancient dates in the culmination of an ambitious, decades-long experiment to raise the biblical-era Phoenix dactylifera – date palm – from the dead.

During Yigal Yadin’s excavations of Masada in the mid 1960’s, ancient date seeds were discovered beneath rubble at the Northern Palace approach. After being kept in storage for over 40 years, a project initiated by Dr. Sallon, aimed to germinate ancient seeds found on archaeological sites in an effort to reintroduce extinct plants previously grown in the region. As part of this endeavor, Dr. Solowey succeeded in germinating one of these ancient date seeds in 2005, initially thought to be botanically impossible. Dubbed Methuselah it was the oldest seed ever grown attracting wide international attention.

After the successful germination of the first seed, Dr. Solowey and Dr. Sallon took to replicating the experiment. 32 additional intact seeds were chosen, out of which 6 sprouted. The seeds were germinated by warming and hydrating them slowly and gradually. They were then dosed with Gibberellic acid, a growth-promoting plant hormone, and enzymatic fertilizer.

In early 2019, three of the six trees named by Dr. Solowey Adam, Jonah and Hannah were moved out of their greenhouse home to be planted outdoors at the Arava Institute’s Daniel Fischel & Sylvia Neil Research & Visitors’ Park.

The first tree, Methuselah, was discovered to be male. Luckily two of the subsequent trees were revealed by DNA testing as females, and one of them, Hannah, has borne one bunch with 111 dates, which were harvested in early September. Some of the fruit were tasted, and some were sent for further research.

The experiment seeks to rediscover the origins of the historic date palm population and confirm the date seeds’ long-term durability, while shedding light on ancient cultivation techniques that nurtured this unique fruit and exploring its potential relevance for modern date agronomy. Methusaleh and all the ancient date trees can be visited by contacting Keren Kolot.