Three thousand years ago in what is now Israel, the Judean date palm was a major part of life.
For the Judean people, the tree provided food, shelter, and shade, and helped civilizations and cities, some of which still exist today, grow and thrive thanks to trade.
The date palm was so loved that it’s mentioned several times in the Old Testament and images of it decorated ancient coins. It was also considered a symbol of elegance and grace, and the Hebrew word for it, tamar, is still a popular woman’s name.
However, over the centuries, things changed. The climate changed and the cities grew, crowding out space for the trees to grow. Later, the devastation of wars wiped out palm plantations. By the 1300s, the Judean date palm was extinct.
Humans have a pretty nasty habit of killing off other creatures, but luckily, there are other humans who work to restore populations of plants and animals on the brink, including the very symbol of the United States.
But when it comes to plants, sometimes it just takes a chance discovery.
In the 1960s, excavations were underway at the ancient palace of Herod the Great, when someone found a small clay jar full of seeds.
For the next 40 years, the seeds were kept in a drawer at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. After all, they were 2,000 years old. They’d never grow. Right?
In 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey stuck one in a pot of dirt out of curiosity. She didn’t really expect anything to happen.
She was wrong.