Phoenix theophrasti Greuter, Bauhinia 3: 243 (1967)

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The species was first described from Vai in Crete, and is now recorded from nine coastal localities on that island (Turland et al. 1993). Since 1982 (Boydak 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987; Boydak & Yaka 1983) the species has been recorded from the Data Peninsula and Kumluca-Kara6z regions of south western Anatolia in Turkey from sea-level to 350 m. A third locality for Phoenix in Turkey was recorded by Boydak & Barrow (1995) from Gölköy near Bodrum. The history of this population and its identity are unclear but I consider it most likely to be referrable to P. dactylifera. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Phoenix theophrasti, the Cretan Date Palm, has been known in the Mediterranean since classical times when it was recorded by Theophrastus in Enquiry into Plants (370 - 285 BC, see Hort 1916) and Pliny in Natural History (see Rackham 1945). However, it was not until 1967 that the species was described formally by Greuter who named it in honour of the Greek botanist-philosopher. Phoenix theophrasti occupies a narrow ecological zone in coastal areas of southwestern Turkey and Crete, in habitats similar to those of feral dates: deep ravines, gorges, and water seepage areas. At present, the species is known only from Crete and southwestern Turkey, although Turland et al. (1993) reported 'P. theophrasti-like' palms from the East Aegean islands of Kalimnos, Nisiros and Simi. Phoenix dactylifera and P. theophrasti are easily confused, particularly when sterile, and thus new records of P. theophrasti must be treated with caution. Phoenix dactylifera and P. theophrasti are poorly differentiated and I consider the species status of P. theophrasti to be in doubt. Greuter (1967) considered the clustering habit of P. theophrasti to be a key character for differentiation of the species from P. dactylifera. Habit was earlier also referred to by Pliny who noted 'Some palms in Syria (referring to the area of modern Israel) and Egypt divide into two trunks, and in Crete even into three, and some even into five'. Similarly, Theophrastus (see Hort 1916) noted that '...they say that the palms in Crete more often than not have this double stem, and some of them have three stems; and that in Laporia one with five heads has been known.' Although P. theophrasti is a multiple-stemmed species, this character does not always distinguish it from P. dactylifera. In cultivation P. dactylifera exists as a single main stem with abundant basal suckers. These offshoots are generally removed for vegetative propagation purposes; however, if they are left to grow, a clump of many stems may arise from some date palm cultivars, just as with palms of P. theophrasti. All characters used to differentiate R dactylifera from other species in the genus must be considered in the context of the long history of P. dactylifera cultivation and human selection of certain morphological characteristics. Selection has focused particularly on such characters as peduncle length and fruit size, and thus they are not ideal for species differentiation. Phoenix dactylifera and P. theophrasti are difficult to differentiate on the basis of morphological and anatomical data such that the specific status of the latter species is debatable. Furthermore, molecular data supports the two species as close sisters. An extensive range of morphological variation is exhibited by P. dactylifera, and it is likely that the morphological charateristics of P. theophrasti fall within this range. Although this study comes close to considering the two species conspecific there is still, in my opinion, insufficient data to support such a decision. This problematic issue can only be resolved by an extensive morphological survey of P. dactylifera across its geographical range, and the morphological characteristics of the feral date palms of the Persian Gulf, in particular, must be clarified. If P. theophrasti is found to be very similar to the Persian date palms then I would consider it undoubtedly a synonym of P. dactylifera. Even if this is indeed proven to be so, there may still be a case for maintaining the name P. theophrasti to refer to non-cultivated, feral populations of palms occupying wild habitats. Populations of palms in Turkey, Crete and areas of the Near East (and possibly elsewhere) would then be referrable to P. theophrasti. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Biology And Ecology

  • Phoenix theophrasti is found in coastal areas, either on steep calcareous cliffs and rocks within a few metres of the sea, or somewhat inland along moist valley floors, stream banks and rocky gullies. Occurrence of the palms invariably indicates a water-source. Salt tolerance of the species enables it to survive combined pressures of exposure to coastal winds and sea water. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Common Name

  • Vaion (palm leaf), (Crete), [Barclay (1974)]. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • In Crete leaves of R theophrasti are used in Palm Sunday celebrations (Barclay 1974), just as leaves of P. dactylifera are used elsewhere. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Clustering tree palm. Stem to 17 m tall, without leaf sheaths c. 50 cm in diam., with leaves persistent in upper trunk, otherwise with persistent, diamond-shaped leaf bases. Leaves obliquely vertical in orientation, c. 2 - 4 m long; leaf sheath fibrous, reddish-brown; pseudopetiole 50 - 70 cm long; acanthophylls irregularly arranged in more than one plane, to 10 on each side of rachis, yellow to orange-green; leaflets irregularly arranged in one to two planes of orientation, c. 65 - 100 on each side of rachis, stiff, to 50 x 2 cm; lamina concolorous, glaucous, surfaces often white with waxy coating. Staminate inflorescences erect; prophyll coriaceous, splitting twice between margins, c. 45 x 8 cm; peduncle to c. 40 cm long; rachillae to c. 10 cm long. Staminate flowers yellow-white, with strong musty scent; calyx cupule 2 - 3 mm high; petals 3 (rarely 4), 8 x 3.5 mm; stamens 6 (rarely 7). Pistillate inflorescences erect arching slightly with fruit maturity; prophyll to 50 x 6 cm; peduncle elongating on fruit set, to c. 70 cm; rachillae to c. 80 in number, elongating on fruit set, to c. 50 cm long. Pistillate flowers yellow-white, with 3-lobed calyx cupule 2 - 2.5 mm high; petals 3 (rarely 4), 2 x 3 mm. Fruit oblong, c. 15 x 10 mm, green-yellow to brown, with sparse, mealy, sweet mesocarp. Seed with rounded apices, 11 - 13 x 6 - 7 mm; embryo lateral opposite raphe; endosperm homogeneous. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Materials Examined

  • CRETE. Sitia Prov., nr. Vai, 2 Oct. 1966 (pist.), Greuter 7650 (Holotypes: hb. Greuter. Isotypes: B, E!, G, GB, hb. mus. Goulandris, hb. Phitos, hb. Zaffran, K!, LD, M, W); Pre Veli, 27 June 1967 (ster.), Barclay 272 (K!); Vai, 3 April 1970 (pist.), Synge 19 (K!); Vai, 9 April 1974 (pist.), Canon & Canon 4303 (BM!); Kissamos, Hrisos, Kalitissa, 27 April 1989 (pist., photo.), Turland 93 (BM!); NW Toplou Monastery, 60 m alt., 30 March 1990 (seed, photo.), Turland et al. 115 (BM!). TURKEY. Datea peninsula, (pist.), Boydak s.n. (K!); Hurmalibfik village (K!), 22 April 1994 (pist.), Barrow & Boydak 37, 37A (K!), 22 April 1994 (stam.), Barrow & Boydak 38 (K!); Finike, Kumluca-Karaöz Bay, 24 April 1994 (pist.), Barrow & Boydak 41, 42 (K!). (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


    A. Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae)