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Date Bank Preserves a Holiday TreatBy Marcia Wood
December 19, 1997
Sweet, sun-ripened California dates enhance holiday cookies, cakes and breads. And, dates make a tasty, fat- and cholesterol-free snack.
In the early 1900's, USDA scientists helped commercial date farming get going in California. They imported many date palm varieties from the Middle East, then determined which ones had promise and how best to grow and harvest a crop.
Today, scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service maintain one of the world's largest date-palm collections. Their 10-acre research garden in Thermal, Calif., about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles, doubles as a gene bank that safeguards specimens of more than 50 different types of date palms.
The collection is part of ARS' National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Citrus and Dates. It includes, for example, the delicious and exotic Amir Hajj date, known as "the visitor's date" in the Middle East because it is a delicacy served to guests.
The date bank also houses Moroccan Medjools prized for their large size, rich taste and soft texture. And, it shelters some wild relatives of commercial dates. These species, according to curator Robert R. Krueger at Riverside, Calif., may hold genes for resistance to insects or diseases, or ability to thrive in salty soil.
Besides furnishing specimens to breeders, the gene bank also acts as a "safety net" for varieties that could be lost to future development or natural disaster. It is part of a network of 26 ARS repositories for dozens of plants, from apples to zucchini.
Dates provide fiber, potassium, magnesium and several B-vitamins. California produces nearly all the nation's dates. The 1996 crop of 26,000 tons was worth $18 million to growers.
Scientific contact:Robert R Krueger, ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Citrus and Dates, 1060 Martin Luther King Blvd., Riverside, CA 92507-5437, phone (909) 787-4399, fax 787-4398, firstname.lastname@example.org.