When the Romans invaded Judea in 63 B.C., there were thick forests of date palm trees stretching over a range of 7 miles across the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The trees grew to a height of 80 feet and had branches all year round.
In ancient Israel the palm branches were used each year for the festival of Sukkot to make roofing for the booths. Palm branches were used to thatch the roofs of homes and sheep cotes, to create canopies over open market spaces, and for ceremonies like weddings, etc. They were used so extensively that the Judean palms nearly disappeared from the Jordan Valley.
There are efforts to bring back the Judean date palm. In 2005, Dr. Elaine Solowey germinated a 2000-year seed that had been recovered decades earlier from an archaeological excavation at the fortified high place Masada. The "Methuselah Tree" (shown below) is growing in a protected environment in Jerusalem. Genetic tests indicate that the Methuselah Tree is closely related to an ancient variety of date palm from Egypt known as Hayany. The ancient flora and fauna of the Jordan Valley and the Nile Valley are similar.
The Methuselah date palm is now producing dates. These are the kind of palm branches that would have been used to hail King Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.
When the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, they greeted him with palm branches as a king to be enthroned. Ceremonial installation of rulers with palms was an ancient tradition. It had been a practice of the Jebusite people of Jerusalem before David's time.
Fresh palm branches are still used among many peoples of Central and East Africa at the enthronement of a sovereign and a priest of high rank. Even today, fresh palm fronds are used ceremonially at the installation of Ijebu rulers and to decorate places of worship. Jude Adebo Adeleye Ogunade writes in his memoir about growing up Ijebu. He was warned not to touch the leaves of the Igi-Ose tree because, as his Mama Eleni explained, "That tree is the tree whose leaves are used to install Chiefs and Kings of Ijebu and as your grandfather was a custodian of the rites of chieftaincy and kingship you must not play with its leaves."