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Activity: an excursion to see the wild Thai date palm

April 19, 2013

A few years ago I showed a Thai vendor a picture of the wild Thai date palm Phoenix loureiroi from Simon and Pindar Gardner’s book. I had a Thai name, picture and everything, and he still gave me the common ‘dwarf date palm’ Phoenix roebelenii (Arecaceae) you see everywhere in Thai gardens and elsewhere in tropical countries, even indoors in Sweden. It is native to southern China, Laos and northern Vietnam, while Ph. loureiroi is native to dry hills in a broad belt from Pakistan to southern China, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.

However, the nomenclature is terribly confused. According to Tem Smitinand they are conspecific, while according to Kew Gardens and Flora of China they are different species. In P. roebelenii the leaflets are arranged in one plane making the leaf look flat, while in P. loureiroi the leaflets are arranged in  two or more planes. Phoenix humilis var. loureiroi (Kunth) Becc. is considered a synonym of Phoenix loureiroi Kunth., while Phoenix humilis Royle is a synonym of Chamaerops humilis L. There is another look-alike, Ph. acaulis, native to northern India and Nepal. Unlike the other two species mentioned it has an underground stem while the stem of the other two species may reach a few meters above the ground.

Since we wish to build up a monsoon woodland we need the native Thai date species and since we have seen it in the wild, fruiting in March-April, we now intend to make another excursion to collect seeds.

If anyone is curious to see this wild Thai date palm, and taste its fruits, please join us on Sunday morning, April 21st. We meet at 7 a.m. at the Dokmai Garden parking for a 30 minutes drive into a community forest where we are allowed to pick seeds. The hill is very steep and so only physically fit people should join. We have to start early due to the heat. Bring nothing but plenty of water, hiking boots and camera.

Kindly e-mail us no later than Saturday evening if you intend to join us: info at


Ketsanee and Eric

Phoenix roebelenii.72The dwarf date palm Ph. roebelenii can be seen here at Dokmai Garden or along the west side of the road through the military airfield in Chiang Mai. To our cultivation experience it demands water in the dry season, while the native Thai date Ph. loureiroi apparently happily grows on the driest hill crests.

Phoenix loureiroi.April23.2013.72

Results from the excursion, updated on April 24th: The native Phoenix loureiroi as seen in the forest south of Chiang Mai. From a distance it looks like a tuft of grass. A characteristic is the leaflets pointing different directions, not neatly arranged in one plane as in Ph. roebelenii. Many male and female plants were encountered.

Phoenix loureiroi immature fruits.72Results from the excursion: the fruits of the wild Thai date palm were still green, which surprised me since I have seen black fruits the same time but in another year. All female specimens bore green fruits.

Phoenix loureiroi.mature fruits and seeds.May8.2013.72

Update: these mature fruits and seeds were collected on May 8, 2013.

Phoenix roebelenii spines.72

A characteristic of dates are the spine-like inner leaflets of the pinnate leaves. If you try to remove litter from the base of the palm leaf, but hastily withdraw due to the pain, it is likely you have a date palm of the genus Phoenix! This is Ph. roebelenii.

The genus encompass 13 species in the world, and we have treated the famous date palm, Ph. dactylifera, previously. A complicating factor is that these species may hybridise in gardens, so a species distinction is more a matter of definition, as discussed earlier. Other characteristics of dates are separate genders of separate trees, i.e. you will not find normal bisexual flowers nor male and female flowers on the same tree. For fruit production in your garden you need both male and female trees.

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