Three of the Gospel writers record that the crowds spread branches on the road before Jesus, in addition to their coats, but only John specifies that the branches were from palm trees. The only other time this tree is mentioned in the New Testament is in a vision John records in Revelation, where masses of people praise God with palm branches in their hands, celebrating God’s salvation.

John’s term for palm trees (phoinix) refers to the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), a highly cultivated tree throughout the ancient world. It was grown for its dates (dactylifera means “date-bearing”), which are sweet, colorful, finger-like fruits with a hard pit in the center. Date palms have been grown for millennia in the Middle East and were plentiful in the first century Judean countryside. 

Palm branches were used as symbols of Jewish nationalism since the Maccabean revolu­tion, similar to how the maple leaf symbolizes Canada and the silver fern symbolizes New Zealand.