This article first appeared as Smart News on Smithsonian.com and is written by Laura Clark.
Methuselah, a Judean date palm tree that was grown from a 2,000 year old seed, has become a papa plant.
Elaine Solowey, of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, recently broke the good news to National Geographic:
“He is over three meters [ten feet] tall, he’s got a few offshoots, he has flowers, and his pollen is good,” she says. “We pollinated a female with his pollen, a wild [modern] female, and yeah, he can make dates.”
Methuselah sprouted back in 2005, when agriculture expert Solowey germinated his antique seed. It had been pulled from the remains of Masada, an ancient fortification perched on a rock plateau in southern Israel, and at the time, no one could be sure that the plant would thrive. But he has, and his recent reproductive feat helps prove just how well he’s doing.
For a while, the Judean date palm was the sole representative of his kind: Methuselah’s variety was reportedly wiped out around 500 A.D. But Solowey has continued to grow date palms from ancient seeds discovered in the region, and she tells National Geographic that she is “trying to figure out how to plant an ancient date grove.” Doing so would allow researchers to better understand exactly what earlier peoples of the region were eating and how it tasted.
At 2,000 years old, Methuselah’s seed isn’t the most aged to be used to grow a plant—not by a long shot. Back in 2012, a team of Russian scientists unearthed a cache of seeds from a prehistoric squirrel burrow that had been covered in ice. They eventually succeeded in germinating the 32,000-year-old specimens, which grew into an arctic plant closely resembling the modern narrow-leafed campion.
Laura Clark is a writer and editor based in Pittsburgh. She’s a blogger with Smart News and a senior editor at Pitt magazine.