Introduction; Creating Ropes from Date Palms

Published: July 1st, 2007 | Updated: 16/01/15

To the reader

For the benefit of our readers who might feel that our website is too “botanical,” I thought I would try and present “tales” that do not require prior knowledge. For example: seed shooting by drying fruit or by ripening juicy fruit, preparation of cords from plant-fibers, tooth-picks from thorny shrubs, or just eating a tasty leaf. Excuse me, my right shoulder is itching – I have to go out to my garden and pick a plant whose juice soothes this kind of itch.

When I sit alone, quietly, and start to think about the contents of my planned book, it seems to me that I have plenty of different stories. I am now retired and, as in the past, I do not feel comfortable with wasted time. There is, therefore, only one conclusion: I have to write a book which will make my “stories” available to those who would like to read them. In my previous books, the “Table of contents” listed climate, geology, plant geography, plant communities, etc., but here we shall see: plant utilization, movement in plants, I am thirsty, I am hungry, do not poison me, I forgot my mattress at home, etc. I shall try to use simple language – no need to look up botanical terms. I plan to present the book as chapters in our website. When we are done, we shall consider publishing the chapters as a book.

Useful plants

All over the world, human beings use plants or plant parts for many every-day purposes. People make baskets, mats, ropes, strings, and walking sticks from wild plants. In many plants the desired parts are ready for human use without any “domestication”. The preparation of strings, cords, and ropes from wild plants has long attracted my attention and in the autumn I intend to present a lecture on this subject at an international conference. I shall try to include information on this subject from different countries. We shall therefore begin our trip together with cords and ropes.

Strings and cords in date-palm country

Fig. 1.1.1: Phoenix dactylifera.

Preparation of cords from plants

The oldest known remains of plied plant cords found so far in the world are those from Ohalo II, a prehistoric site on the shore of the Kinnereth (the Sea of Galilee), dating to 19,000-20,000 years B.P. (Nadel et al., 1994) The researchers suggested that the ancients used cords to make fish-nets. Let us start our walk together into the world of useful plants along the path marked with a hand-made string.

Date palms

Palm leaves can be found all over the country. Let us use the date palm ([Phoenix dactylifera]) or the Canarian palm (P. canariensis) which has stiff spiny lobes in its leaf base, and small, orange-colored fruits and fruiting branches. Let us detach a long leaflet and split it longitudinally into fibers – as narrow as possible.

Splitting a leaflet into fibers

Fig. 1.1.2: splitting a leaflet into fibers.

Twisted fibers

Fig. 1.1.3: twisted fibers.

A group of 5-7 fibers should be twisted to the stage when it begins to fold. Let us make the fold form at the center of the group of fibers, and we get a two-tasseled cord. Let us make the cord longer by adding a group of 3 fibers, V-shaped, to the base of the two ends (one side of the ‘V’ in each fiber group) and continue twisting the now thicker ends.

Folding of the twisted fibers (left), adding some fibers

Fig. 1.1.4: folding of the twisted fibers (left), adding some fibers.

Trunk fibers of date palm at the leaf bases

Fig. 1.1.5: trunk fibers of date palm at the leaf bases.

If one wants to make a brown string or cord, fibers should be taken from the base of upper leaves. Let us call these fibers “trunk fibers”. It is not advisable to take fibers from the base of old leaves because of their partial rotting after a long period of bacterial and fungal activity. Many palms have similar trunk fibers, and are worth experimenting with. When visiting a botanical garden in Western Scotland I saw that the gardeners had taken advantage of the warming effect of the Gulf Stream and planted a palm (although the general distribution of palms is mainly in warm countries). From the fine black fibers of that palm I made a strong pliable cord that served me for a whole year, tying our luggage onto the roof of our car.

A string made of trunk fibers of date palm

Fig. 1.1.6: a string made of trunk fibers of date palm.

A rope made of a palm with black trunk-fibers

Fig. 1.1.7: a rope made of a palm with black trunk-fibers.


1. Nadel, D., Danin, A., Werker, E., Schick, T., Kislev, M.E., and Stewart, K. 1994. 19,000?year?old twisted fibers from Ohalo II. Current Anthrop. 35(4): 451?458.

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