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Senegal Date Palm
Phoenix reclinata
senefal date palm
Senegal Date Palm, photographed at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Miami-Dade County, in February 2019.
senefal date palm

In its native range, the Senegal date palm, Phoenix reclinata, is quite the useful plant, a source of food and medicine, building materials, tools, toys, clothing and other essentials. Here in South Florida, its main asset is its good looks.

It's used widely in landscaping, but perhaps it shouldn't, at least here in South Florida. As might be guessed from the name, it is not native to the Sunshine State, and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 1997 deemed the Senegal date palm to be a class II invasive, meaning it is spreading in the wild, has the potential to do damage to Florida's ecology but has yet to do so. Class II status is sort of a watch list for weeds.

Senegal date palms are native to tropical and subtropical parts of Africa and Madagascar, where they grow along the banks of rivers and streams, places where they have access to constant source of moisture. It's found growing in the Arabian Peninsula, but it's uncertain whether they're native or naturalized. In parts of South Africa, it's believed Senegal date palm populations became established when English and German soldiers discard the pips, or seeds. They are protected plants in parts of Africa, reflecting their importance to people and animals.

Senegal date palms can grow quite tall, as high as 30 to 35 feet on occasion, with a a crown spread of 12 to 20 feet. The leaves are pinnate, or feather-like, and enormous, as long as 15 feet, with an arching rachis (the center rib of the leaf that extends from the trunk) and ends with a single leaflet. Close to the trunk, the leaves have long, sharp spines that are actually modified leaflets. Senegal date palms send out flower spikes called inflorescences that are as long as three feet. Flowers are cream-colored, and can bloom any time of the year; eventually they give way to clusters of inch-long, berry-like fruit that turn orange or reddish brown when ripe.

senefal date palm thorns

One important thing to note about the flowers: Senegal date palms are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers appear on separate plants, and only the ones bearing female flowers will fruit.

Senegal date palms typically have multiple, clustering trunks, with a lean to them, becoming more erect the higher they get. Leaf bases and matted fibers mark the trunks of younger trees; they become smoother as the tree matures and becomes taller.

A University of Florida factsheet on Senegal date palms published in 1994 without qualification recommended the tree as an accent planting. An updated version of the factsheet limits the recommendation to northern and central Florida but not South Florida because of the Senegal date palm's invasive potential.

As we noted above, Senegal date palm is incredibly important within its native range. It provides shade and erosion control, foods for animals and humans alike. The fruit can be eat raw or cooked, or made into wine. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Every part of the tree is used for food, for medicine, to make tools, for building materials, literally too many uses to list here.

Senegal date palms are also known as African date palms and reclining date palms. They are members of Arecaceae, the palm family.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Senegal Date Palm
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood   USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Flora of North America   Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants   Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
All photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.