U.S. growers got their first date plants from Morocco, Syria and Algeria

California dates

Dates in this country hark back to 1898, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began sending teams of botanists and horticulturalist around the globe to find crops that would thrive in the United States. From Morocco, Syria and Algeria, these explorers gathered offshoots of ancient date palms and returned to plant them in the Coachella Valley’s desert lands in Southern California.

As soon as the dates begin producing here, growers capitalized on their association with the exotic Middle East and tales of the Arabian Nights. It was a way to interest people in coming to what otherwise was a rather forbidding, trackless desert. It made it seem more exotic, more romantic. Towns were renamed. Walters became Mecca and other places were called Oasis, Thermal, and Arabia. Investors from Los Angeles would take a camel ride out to the development called the Wald Oasis of Biskra, led by people dressed in Arabian costume.

See “Forbidding Fruit: How America Got Turned On To The Date” by the Kitchen Sisters and Lisa Morehouse on the WBUR FM website (2014)

Also “Dates: The Sticky History of a Sweet Fruit” by Michele Kayal on the National Geographic website (2015)