A Date with the Past: Extinct Tree Rises Again
A sapling is sprouting from a two-thousand-year-old seed. The Judean date tree supposedly has medicinal uses, which today's scientists are keen to test.
Dubbed the "Methuselah Tree" after the oldest person in the Bible, the new plant has been growing steadily, and after 26 months, the tree was nearly four-feet (1.2 meters) tall.
The species of tree, called the Judean date, (Phoenix dactylifera L.), is now extinct in Israel, but researchers are hoping that by reviving the plant they may be able to study its medicinal uses.
"The medicinal plants from this region are very important because they are historically mentioned in the Bible and the Koran," said Sarah Sallon, director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, which initiated the experiment to grow the tree as part of its Middle East Medicinal Plant Project.
In 2005 the young plant was coaxed out of a seed recovered in 1963 from Masada, a fortress in present-day Israel where Jewish zealots killed themselves to avoid capture by the Romans in A.D. 70.
Because a witness to the long-ago siege recorded the Jews' plight and eventual mass suicide, locations of their food stores—which the Jews left behind to show they didn't starve to death—were well documented.
So the exact age of the seed isn't a big surprise, said project leader Sarah Sallon of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, but: "I was surprised that we were able to grow it."