The palm of Theophrastus (Phoenix theophrasti), also known as Cretan Date Palm is a rare endemic species of the Aegean Sea, which is met all over Crete, in several Aegean islands and in Antalya (southwestern Turkey).
It grows in moist sandy plains and rocky areas near sea level. In Crete, there is the largest palm grove in Europe, located in the Vai (East Crete). Other groves are smaller, like the palm groves of Lake Preveli and Agios Nikitas and Martsalo Gorge in Asteroussia Mountains. Apart from these, there are many with smaller clusters of palm trees such as the micro-reserve of the White Lake near Elafonissi and the clusters of Souda near Plakias, Almyros River near Gazi and Almyros near Agios Nikolaos.
The species was firstly identified as different in 1967 by Greuter and was named after the father of Botany, Theophrastus (372-287 BC), who first indicated the existence of palm trees in Crete. The date palm of Theophrastus is often confused with the (imported) ornamental species of the Canary Islands (Phoenix caraniensis), which does not produce offshoots and grows faster.
The Cretan palm reaches a height of up to 15m, usually produce offshoots, can have more than main trunk and looks like the common date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). However, the fruit, which resemble dates, is not edible (although occasionally eaten by locals).
During the last years, a huge concern about the future of the endangered Cretan palm has derived, as the other palm species listed on the island have been devastated by the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). This beetle was accidentally introduced in Crete, carried in the trunk of some imported palm trees coming from Africa, and has caused huge ecological damage. Till now, fortunately the palm of Theophrastus has not been affected, probably because the interior of the trunk is not as tender as the other palm trees. But when the beetles destroy all the rest vulnerable palm species, it is likely to start destroying the Cretan date palms.
10 places of Crete with palmtrees