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>>Palm Trees >>Palm Tree Help & Advice >>Palm Tree Seed Germination

Palm Tree Seed Germination, Growing Palm Trees from Seed 
A Nurseryman's Viewpoint 
 
by Phil Bergman
A summary of important points to think about when germinating palm tree seeds. Germination techniques, procedures, recommendations and creating an ideal environment for germination and growth 

 

 
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INTRODUCTION:

For over 40 years I have been obtaining and germinating seeds for my commercial palm and cycad nursery. I would estimate that I have germinated several hundreds of thousands of palm seeds. Every grower will have his own technique or viewpoint. Below is a summary of important points that I think every palm enthusiast or grower should consider when germinating seeds of palm trees
 




Jubaea seeds
Jubaea chilensis fruit


jUBAEA SEEDS
Jubaea seeds cleaned

Attalea brejihoensis seeds
Attalea brejihoensis seeds cleaned
Click photo to enlarge

Decide Which Seeds To Germinate

  • Have a plan for what you are trying to accomplish, and select your seeds accordingly.  Palm tree care begins with picking the right species to grow. 

  • Select species that will do well in your locality.  Particular attention should be given to cold tolerance for your area.

  • Obtain the appropriate number of seeds for your needs.

  • Always identify the seeds by species, source, and date when you collect or receive them. Don't throw everything into a bag to figure out later. You'll undoubtedly forget what is what.

  • Be aware that there are regulations on the importing and international sale and trade of seeds.  Often, phytosanitary permits are needed.  Sometimes, with Endangered Species, a CITES permit might be required, even on species of palms.  Assume it is necessary for cycad seeds and refer to specific CITES laws.

  • Update Jan., 2016.  Because of an assortment of changes in importation laws into the U.S., the international commercial seed market, present time economics and other factors, it is getting almost impossible to find high quality, rare palm seeds.  It's even worse with rare cycads.  I have emails from enthusiasts daily about their inability to find seeds.  Unfortunately, this is true.  Consequently, obtaining seeds often requires connections to domestic seed sources or individual garden owners.  But, this is a long and tedious process and one has to often wait quite a while for seeds.  I would say at this time, I know of only one reliable source that offers seeds internationally.  There are one or two reliable domestic seed sources here in the U.S.  If you do purchase seeds on the Net, be very careful and look at reviews of your supplier.  It's easy to waste money on seeds that don't germinate or aren't as described.  Suppliers' ethics may not match your expectations.
     

  • If you call or email me, I can sometimes refer you to a reputable supplier.  I would, of course, like to sell you established seedlings.  This saves you usually two years of your time.  I have many tens of thousands of seedlings for sale of scores of species.  But, germinating is fun and I understand how people want to germinate their own seeds.



parajubaea sunkha seed
Parajubaea sunkha seed

Archontophoenix purpurea clean seeds
Archontophoenix purpurea  - clean seeds
(click to enlarge)




Pritchardia macdanielsii, immature seeds.
(Click photo to enlarge)
.

Butia capitata, mature seeds.
(Click photo to enlarge)



Areca Ipot
Areca ipot green seeds
(Click photo to enlarge) 

 

Get High Quality Seeds 

  • Best results usually come from fresh seeds collected by the grower himself. Only collect ripe seeds. Avoid immature, green seeds. Ripe seeds have mature fruit color and are ready to drop.

  • If purchased, obtain seeds from a reputable dealer. An unscrupulous broker may intentionally or unwittingly give seeds a false or a more sellable species name to facilitate the sale. You will be unaware of this problem for some time. Such mistakes have led to great confusions with species of palm trees, especially with recent introductions from Madagascar.

  • When you find a good seed broker, stick with him. He wants your repeat business. 

  • If purchased, inquire about the age of the seeds. Seeds from distant lands can take months to get into your hands. Except for his source, a seed broker will usually share information he knows.

  • Poor germination results are usually the result of old or poor quality seeds.

  • Obtain a USDA Import Permit if you plan to import seeds internationally

Carpenteria acuminata seed
Carpenteria acuminata ripe seed






Jubaea chilensis seeds - seed showing inside fruit
 (Click photo to enlarge)
Livistona saribus seeds with fruit
Livistona saribus seeds with fruit

 

Clean Off The Seed's Fruit

  • Before your seeds are shipped to you, insist the fruit is removed to avoid confiscation by the USDA.

  • Likewise, clean fruit from seeds you are bringing into your state or into the country.

  • Rot problems may develop when sewing seeds if fruit is left on the seed. Dry the seeds prior to shipping or transport.

  • Wear gloves when cleaning fruit on some species such as Caryota and Arenga.

  • Seeds germinate better with the fruit off and there are less fungal problems.

  • Fruit contains certain germination inhibitors. Cleaning of the fruit eliminates these inhibitors.

 

Caryota urens fruit
Caryota urens fruit

Howea f fruit
Howea f. fruit/tree

Checking Authenticity Of The Seeds

  • This is one of the hardest things to do. You want to verify that the seeds received are truly what you thought you were purchasing. The same applies to seeds collected in habitat.

  • In habitat, either at the time or later, try your best to identify the species collected.

  • On shipped seeds, utilize references with seed morphology such as "Genera Palmerum" to verify authenticity of the seed you have received. 

 

 

 

 floating palm seeds

 Float test
(Click photo to enlarge)


Astrocaryum mexicanum seeds with inner hollow cavity
Astrocaryum mexicanum seeds with inner hollow cavity (Click to enlarge)



Gastrococos seed inner cavity
Gastrococos crispa seed with
inner cavity - no good
(click to enlarge photo)

Checking Viability Of Seeds Obtained

  • Depending on the species, seed viability varies from several weeks to six to twelve months. Small seeds typically have shorter duration of viability. Understory and more tropical seeds likewise have a shorter time from ripening to loss of viability. As anticipated, seeds that are from more arid habitats typically have longer viability windows.

  • Check the seeds general appearance. Good seeds look fresher and feel heavier in the hand. Old seeds look desiccated and feel lighter.

  • Check seed size. If you know what a seed is should look like and seeds received are much smaller, either you have bad seeds or another species.

  • Pinch Test: Viable seeds never collapse when pinched between your thumb and forefinger. If the seeds do collapse, they are either immature seeds or they are old, desiccated seeds with internal air cavities from rot to the embryo or endocarp. Discard such seeds.

  • Cut Open a Few Seeds:  You cut them length-wise and look for inner hollow cavities.  If you see an empty or rotten center, the chances are 99% that the seed is no good.  (see photo of Astrocaryum seeds to left)

  • Float Test: Viable seeds invariably sink to the bottom when soaked in water and bad seeds float for the reasons described above. This is providing that any outer fibrous covering layer of the seed has been removed. There are a few exceptions, but floaters usually do not germinate.

  • Cutting a representative seed in half may reveal any early rot or desiccation problems.

 






Palm seed pinch text
Failed pinch test
Seed collapsed on pinching


palm seed pinch test
Failed pinch test
Click photo to enlarge

Soaking The Seeds

  • Seeds of palm trees recently cleaned of their ripe, supple fruit do not need to be soaked.

  • Seeds shipped internationally or from a broker invariably benefit from a 24 hour soak in clean water. Some growers advocate chlorine free water for soaking.

  • Soaking prior to sewing gives the seed a jump start and helps revitalize older seeds. With short-lived embryo viability time-windows, such rehydration may be the difference between success and failure.

  • Soaking may be eliminated if one is utilizing an effective automatic and intermittent misting system. With most conventional techniques, however, soaking will prove advantageous.

  • Soaking may protect the seed from desiccation in the short run.  But, as described below, you must mist or water the seeds to keep the medium moist.

  • Over-soaking will produce bubbles from fermentation of fruit remaining on the seeds. If longer soaking periods are used, change the water daily. 

palm tree care begins with germination

Community pot, palm seedlings.
(Click photo to enlarge)

 

  germinating seeds
Coccothrinax seedlings

 

Germination Techniques: Community Pots Or Beds

  • This is a method by which seeds are sewn in a container or bed, typically many seeds placed side by side in the germinating soil.

  • This is the technique we most commonly use.  It is more space efficient for us.  We do not utilize the "Baggie Technique" described below except in very unique situations.

  • Good for day to day observation and offers a grower the opportunity to remove seedlings at will.

  • We like that seeds are easily seen and followed when germinating and easy to remove from their pots.

  • Advantages: Easy observation, erect seedlings, good air circulation, easy application of chemicals or fertilizer, application of bottom heat, and independent removal of seedlings as needed.

  • Disadvantages: Somewhat more difficult to set up, potential for less heat or humidity, greater desiccation risk, chance for collateral contamination by fungus.

  • Most frequently used technique by commercial growers.

community flat seeds
Community Flats cycad seeds


Dypsis baronii germinating seeds
Dypsis baronii  community pots

Veitchia spiralis germinating seeds
Veitchia spiralis

Germination Techniques: "Baggie" Technique

  • An easy technique of placing seeds with some slightly damp moss into a transparent plastic baggie and putting the baggie in a warm environment, such as near a water heater.

  • Advantages: improved humidity, inexpensive, simple, space efficient, mobile, and good for small numbers of seeds

  • Disadvantages: Poor visibility, twisted seedlings, potential for rapid fungal demise, lack of ventilation, inferior light, risk of under-hydration without warning, and need for timely removal when ready or one gets seedling spaghetti.

  • Preferred technique by some hobbyists.

 

Specialized Germination Procedures

  • This includes special procedures done to particular species of palm seeds to improve poor germination results from standard techniques. Although successful for a few species, in general these practices are never needed for most species.  However, there are some special rules in palm tree care and germination.
  •  Plucking out the eye of a large coccoidal seed of species such as Jubaeopsis cafra. In skilled hands, this technique has been reported as successful.
  • Utilizing very high heat for promoting germination of some genera such as Acrocomia and Lemurophoenix.
  • Germination of Borassus species in extremely deep containers to have room for the large and deep root radical.
  • A good note:  Howea forsteriana, here in Southern California, are slow to germinate but do well with good results if you just cover the seeds in the garden with an inch of garden soil.  Expect a batch to take about 18 months to show results.

 

Germination Environment

  • A temperature/humidity controlled greenhouse environment is ideal. This offers more heat, higher low temperatures, and more consistent humidity. There is also less risk of predators, weed contamination and weather-related problems.

  • A simply constructed germination box made out of Styrofoam with a plastic lid can be constructed cheaply and work well. It is ideal for the hobbyist. A simple warming device such as a light bulb can be utilized.

  • If not utilizing a greenhouse or germination box, provide your seeds with the warmest area possible with good humidity and away from direct, hot sunlight. 

  • Humidity levels of 60 to 70% are ideal. Avoid overly damp locations or rot will develop.

 





















 Heating mats
(Click photo to enlarge)

 

 

Utilization Of Bottom Heat

  • This is a system of utilizing artificial heat below the community pot to accomplish or accelerate germination.

  • Commercial heating mats are available with thermostat controls.

  • Advantageous for most species. Speeds germination. Is not inexpensive to use.

  • Bottom heat requires a flat surface to function. It is best to shield loss of heat from the bottom of your mat. The distance from the seeds to bottom heat is critical. If too close it may overheat seeds.

  • For species from colder natural habitats, bottom heat may diminish germination rates and be totally unnecessary.

  • It will increases water requirements and/or frequency of misting.

  • A thermometer should be utilized to verify optimal medium temperature.

  • Be aware that old mats present a fire hazard.  Mats should be replaced when they are old or show signs of deterioration.

high-low thermometer

Maximum-minimum (high-low) thermometer.
(click photo to enlarge)

 

 

 

Simple Outdoor Germination

  • This means germinating outdoors in a small pot or the garden, nothing fancy. This can be successful with many species in you live in an area that gets adequate heat and not too cold. One should avoid direct sunlight on most species and keep the soil somewhat damp.

  • One follows many of the guidelines outlined elsewhere in this article. This can be done simply under a bed of mulch in the garden.

  • Outdoor germination can be successful on many of the cooler growing species of the genera Howea, Chamaedorea, Butia and Parajubaea.

Coarse peat moss.
(click photo to enlarge)

 

Coarse sand, # 12 grit
(click photo to enlarge)

 

 

 

Germination Medium/Soil

  • It must provide a root substrate, moisture, nutrients and aeration.

  • It is ideally loose enough for easy penetration of germination radical.

  • It should accept water easily and not dry out too quickly.

  • There are various opinions on the ideal mix. The mix can be made by hand or purchased as germination mix. Typically used are mixtures of perlite and peat moss in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio.

  • Wetting agents are often added to medium to help with watering.

  • Pure peat moss can be used but can turn into a hard block if ever allowed to fully dry out.

  • Other mediums: Sphagnum moss, sand, shavings, etc.

  • As seedlings germinate and grow, a different growth medium is needed.  The combination of only peat moss and perlite is no longer adequate.

perlite

Perlite
(click photo to enlarge)

 

  Peat Moss
Peat moss


Watering
  • Watering once a day in a greenhouse environment is usually adequate. Outdoors, keep the medium mildly moist.

  • Watering frequency varies with water holding capacity of medium and the ambient temperature/humidity. Sand needs less frequent watering while pure perlite more frequent watering.

  • Automated misting systems are available but not typically needed. Beware of over-watering which can lead to rot problems and damping off of the new leaf. 

  • Water requirements are increased with bottom heat.

  • If possible, use distilled water or reverse osmosis water.  It puts less salt into the germination soil.  Shown to the right is our reverse osmosis unit at our nursery.  All plants get "RO Water".




Reverse Osmosis Jungle Music
This is a photo of the reverse
osmosis unit at Jungle Music
Cold Palm Clip Art
Ideal Temperature For Germination
  • For most species, soil temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be ideal. This can be accomplished using bottom heat or a heated greenhouse.

  • Cold temperatures (day or night) can slow or prevent germination.

  • Excessive bottom heat can be damaging to a seedlings roots.

  • Once then first leaf spear is showing, seedlings can be removed from the bottom heat if you wish. However, repotting should wait (see below).

  • There are species from colder areas that prefer cooler germination temperatures.

  • Overall, cold weather slows or may prevent palm seed germination

 
Palm Fertilizer
See link for palm tree fertilizer
Not all fertilizers are the same
The best "NPK" is 3/1/3
(ratio, not actual numbers)
Click to enlarge photo

Fertilization Of Seedlings
  • This can be beneficial after germination has occurred.

  • It is best to utilize dilute fertilizer solutions. Some would combine a fungicide with the fertilizer.

  • Remember, palms need a different fertilizer.  The "N/P/K" ratio is as shown to the left.

  • We recommend soluble fertilizer for seedlings.  But, you must dilute it out, about 1/3 regular strength.  See photo to right.

  • "Brand X" cheap fertilizers will most likely burn your new seedlings.  Be careful what you buy.

  •  Never apply fertilizer to seedlings whose soil has turned dry.  Pre-water seedlings prior to applying fertilizer.  



Soluble Fertilizer
Soluble fertilizer

Fungal Problems With Seedlings
  • This can occur at any time. It is known as damping off and can be recognized by seedlings quickly turning brown and wilting.

  • Can travel quickly to adjacent seedlings or from pot to pot.

  • Requires timely use of appropriate fungicides. I use a product named Daconil.

  • Prophylactic usage of fungicides can prevent.

Acrocomia
Acrocomia, difficult to germinate

Repotting Of New Seedlings
  • Typically when at least one fully formed leaf exists. Ideally, I wait for the second or third leaf.

  • Most vulnerable time for seedling demise is when doing the initial transplant.

  • Seeds often geminate sporadically. Therefore, one may need to harvest seedlings that are ready and place remnant seeds back into the community pot for further germination.

  • When first repotting the new seedling, introduce it into a very open seedling mix that offers easy penetration of the new roots.

  • Watch for desiccation with transplanted new seedlings. Typically need for frequent misting to reestablish. Use of anti-transpirants may be useful. 

repotting of seedling
Repotting  seedling



Archontophoenix alexandrae tub of germinated seeds
Archontophoenix alexandrae -  tub of germinated seeds - Click to enlarge photo



Time Needed For Germination
  • Even for one species, germination times are so variable that predictions and generalizations are almost meaningless. At best, one could state that some genera or species germinate more quickly than others. Germination times are dependent on all factors discussed above and vary from one batch of seeds to the next.  Photo to the left shows strong seedlings of Archontophoenix alexandrae.  These are the results after one year. 

  • Commonly accepted slow genera to germinate include Acrocomia, certain Syagrus, Howea, Attalea, Jubaea, Jubeaopsis and Parajubaea.

  • Quickly germinating genera/species might include Archontophoenix, Caryota, Chamaedorea, Ptychosperma, Veitchia and many others. 

  • With no success for six to twelve months, it is best to check your seeds with a pinch test. Often it is found that all the seeds are rotten and need to be discarded.

  • An example of slower germination is shown to the right with Jubaea chilensis seeds.  The first photo shows no results in six months.  The second photo was taken about 18 months after setting the seeds down.  Note how there's some germination,  perhaps 10%.  These were from domestic seeds.  It's an example of how, with some species, you just don't get high germination rates.



Jubaea chilensis seeds not germinated in flat
Jubaea chilensis seeds not germinated
in flat after six months
Click photo to enlarge.

Jubaea chilensis seeds some germinating after more than a year
Jubaea chilensis seeds some
germinating after about 18 months
Click photo to enlarge
Astrocaryum mexicana
Astrocaryum mexicana,
A historically difficult seed to germinate
Click to enlarge photo

Difficult Seeds To Germinate
  • This problem is magnified if old, marginally viable or immature seeds are used.

  • As you get more experience, you'll find genera that are just plain difficult to germinate.  Getting high quality, fresh seeds (collected by you) will definitely improve your results.

  • Many seeds have a "shelf life".  So, getting old, dry seeds will slow things down or give you no results.

  • Difficulties are seen with less than optimal germination techniques.

  • Examples: Acrocomia, Jubeopsis, sometimes Jubaea, Parajubaea, Lemurophoenix, Astrocaryum, unusual Syagrus and Voaniola,



Acocomia totai
Acocomia totai, a difficult seed
to germinate
Click to enlarge photo
Easy Seeds To Germinate
  • Some seeds are definitely easier to germinate than others.

  • Examples include genera such as Archontophoenix, Areca, Chamaedorea, Pinanga, Pritchardia, Sabal and Veitchia.



Overall Results
  • Most dependent on getting fresh, viable seeds.

  • Also dependent on technique and diligence of nurseryman or hobbyist.

  • If one actively attempts to germinate many species and gets seeds from all around the world, an overall germination rate of 25% or greater would be considered excellent. 

  • For some species near 100% is the rule.

  • For others, 10% would be phenomenal.

  • Don't get frustrated with failures.  It happens to everyone.

  • Better results will come from good seed suppliers who offer high quality seeds.

Community pot, palm seedlings (older).
(Click photo to enlarge)

 

 

  END OF ARTICLE ON PALM SEED GERMINATION    



Dypsis dark meal bug band
Dypsis dark mealy bug in band size

 

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Pritchardia band
Pritchardia in band size

Front of Jungle Music
Entrance to Jungle Music
Click to enlarge photo

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Phone: 619 291 4605
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  phil@junglemusic.net

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