Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is a major fruit tree in the Middle East and it is a plant considered to be tolerant to a variety of abiotic stresses, including salinity. However, the physiological basis of its salinity tolerance is not fully known. The objective of this study was to screen Omani date palm cultivars for tolerance or susceptibility to salt stress. Seedlings from 10 commercially important date palm cultivars were subjected to 240 mM NaCl, and several physiological parameters related to salinity tolerance traits were evaluated upon treatment. The cultivars were divided into two groups based on the dry weight (DW) of their leaf and root tissues, a parameter which was used as an indication of healthy growth. The results revealed that photosynthesis, electrolyte leakage (EL), and the shoot K+/Na+ ratio were all significantly reduced in the susceptible cultivars. In addition, the relative water content was higher in the tolerant cultivars in comparison with the susceptible ones. These results suggest that although date palm is tolerant to high salinity, there is variation in tolerance among different cultivars. Shoot Na+ exclusion, photosynthesis, and membrane stability are apparently the main determinants of tolerance and can be used in salinity tolerance screening of date palm. The results have shown new very tolerant cultivars (Manoma and Umsila) that could serve as genetic resources for improved date palm tolerance to salinity.
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