National Geographic : 1910 Jul
VOL. XXI, No. 7 WASHINGTON JULY, 1910 GEO OvGBAIHI G ATQAIL LIi MAGAZ BI_ THE DATE GARDENS OF THE JERID BY THOMAS H. KEARNEY With Photograhsby the Author W ITH its feet in the water and its head in the fire," as the Arab proverb has it, the date palm is at home in the vast deserts that stretch from Morocco to the borders of India. It thrives where the air is almost abso lutely dry and where the summer tem peratures are the highest on the globe. Under these conditions only do the best varieties of dates reach perfect ripeness. But as it is also necessary that the roots of the palm find plenty of moisture in the soil, the fruit is confined to the oases favored spots in the deserts where never failing springs or wells allow of irriga tion. No country is more celebrated for the excellence of its dates than the Beled el Jerid (Land of the Palms),a small group of oases situated at the northern edge of the Sahara and distant about 250 miles southwestward as the crow flies from the city of Tunis. Some years ago I visited these oases in order to obtain palms for the date or chards which the National Department of Agriculture has established in Arizona and in the Colorado Desert of Califor nia.* My visit was so timed that I * In the southwestern United States there are deserts as hot as the Sahara. Rivers and arte- reached the oases soon after the begin ning of the harvest. This made it pos sible to test the fruit of the different varieties while fresh from the trees and to select the best of them for introduc tion into the United States. The Jerid is best reached by means of a railway which crosses southern Tunis from the busy little seaport of Sfax, on the east coast, to the rich phosphate mines of Metlaoui, near the Algerian frontier. Leaving Sfax one morning in October. an all-day journey in a slow mixed train brought me to Gafsa, 25 miles from the end of the line. It was a desolate coun try through which we passed, wonder fully like the high plains of eastern Colo rado and New Mexico. An occasional cluster of "gourbis," or tents of skins, an occasional' flock of multicolored sheep and goats, tended by half-wild Bedouin children, were the only signs of life in the monotonous landscape. The vegetation consisted sian wells supply water for the irrigation of many thousands of acres. In the belief that the physical conditions meet all the require ments of the palm, the Department of Agricul ture is devoting much energy to establishing date culture in this region. During the past ten years agricultural explorers have visited many parts of the great desert zone of the Old World in search of the best varieties.