The Judean date palm, once found in abundance in the land of Israel, has been extinct for some 1,500 years. In 2005, the botanical researcher Elaine Solowey tried planting an ancient seed that had been discovered in the ruins of Masada. The resulting tree (nicknamed Methuselah) has now produced offspring. April Holloway writes:
For thousands of years, the date palm was a staple crop in the kingdom of Judea, as it was a source of food, shelter, and shade. Thick forests of the palms towering up to 80 feet and spreading for seven miles covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. So valued was the tree that it became a recognized as a symbol of good fortune in Judea. It is chronicled in the Bible, Quran, and ancient literature for its diverse powers . . . and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria, and toothache.
However, its value was also the source of its demise and eventual extinction. The tree so defined the local economy that it became a prime resource for the invading Roman army to destroy. Once the Roman Empire took control of the kingdom in 70 CE, the date palms were wiped out in an attempt to cripple the Jewish economy. The effort eventually succeeded, and by 500 CE the once plentiful palm had completely disappeared, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest. . . .
[Elaine] Solowey now hopes she will be able to plant an ancient date grove. To do that, she would need to grow a female plant from an ancient seed as a mate for Methuselah, and it’s looking promising—Solowey has managed to sprout a small handful of other date palms from ancient seeds recovered at archaeological sites around the Dead Sea, and at least two of them are female.