The University of Arizona

Date Palms in the Desert: Reimagining and Cooperating with Nature in Arid Arizona

Mary A. McCarthy


The development of a date fruit industry in Arizona illustrates the working relationships established between government agencies, the University of Arizona, and farmers as they confronted and conformed to environmental limits. Robert H. Forbes, director of the Arizona Experimental Station, seized the opportunities for agricultural experimentation made available by the passage of the 1887 Hatch Act. While many settlers sought to transform Arizona deserts into profitable farm fields, locally accrued environmental knowledge encouraged experimentation with crops already adapted to harsh desert climates. Chosen for its resiliency, the date palm promised to become the basis for a great new Arizona industry but that dream was eventually cut short by unforeseen production costs and environmental limitations that contributed to the rise of date propagation in California.


Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station; Phoenix dactylifera; date palm; Robert H. Forbes; Salt River Valley; industry; United States Department of Agriculture; environmental history

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