Palm Seed Germination
People who have bought or are thinking about buying palm seed will have many questions about palm seed germination:
-How do I know if it's good seed?
-Should I soak the seed before planting?
-How should I plant the seed?
-What is the germination rate of palm seed?
-How long will the seed take to germinate?
-How deep will the first root put itself out?
-What should I do after germination?
There are no hard and fast rules which apply to each and every palm species, however below we have tried to outline the basic principles which will get you started successfully germinating seeds. Much of this advice seems common sense to experienced palm collectors but may not be so to the novice. We also encourage experimentation and sometimes we can be surprised at what works (and what doesn't).
The first step in successful seed germination is good palm seed. This means fresh fertilized seed which has not been eaten by weevils or other insects. Each and every fertile palm seed has a small embryo inside the seed which is either white, cream or yellow. This tastes good to insects. A sample of the seed can be cut open to find the embryo. If one seed in a batch contains an embryo, then the seed is fertile. Sometimes the embryo is prominent and large relative to the size of the seed and sometimes very hard to find, so don't give up too easily. Also, different species have the embryo in different parts of the seed so don't make any assumptions. Seed can also be dropped in water and the good seed with embryo will sink. Sometimes, however, good seed in its shell or fruit may float, so test the seed only.
A palm tree may produce batches of infertile seed because it is not yet mature, because it is sick, or because it is dioecious and has not been fertilized by the male.
The seed should be cleaned before planting because the fruit attracts insects and some species of palm fruit contain an anti-germination agent to encourage more widespread propagation in the wild. If the seed is looking dry, soak it in water for 24 to 48 hours before planting. In fact, seed left to soak long enough may eventually germinate in the water, although we don't recommend this method of germination.
The key elements to germination are heat and moisture. Up to 120 Fahrenheit (49 Centigrade) is required for some species. Moisture is required but too much and the seeds may rot. Seeds should be planted no more than the diameter of the seed below the surface and some seeds germinate best actually on the surface. In nature, the seeds which germinate are usually half in and half out of the soil.
The substance the seeds are planted in should have the following qualities:
-loose and light (so it's easy for the roots to penetrate and easy to separate out the seedlings after germination)
-sterile (at least insect-free)
-holds moisture well
Burnt rice husk fits this description, for example, and any commercial potting mixture will do just fine.
Seeds should be planted together with enough depth for the first root to put itself out comfortably without having to wrap much. Some palms put out very long first roots, but for most palms five or six inches will be plenty.
How long the seed will take to germinate depends on the species and on the propagation environment. Some seeds can be seen germinating on the tree itself and some may take six months to a year.
There's no reason why good seed in the correct environment should not enjoy a 100% germination rate, although basic facts of life suggest that not all the seed will germinate. Seeds planted together tend to germinate in rounds, so for example a third of the seed will germinate after ten weeks but wait another few weeks and another third will germinate. Many people assume incorrectly that the seed which doesn't germinate in the first round won't germinate.
Some people say that palms like nature and voodoo may come into it. Sometimes the seed won't germinate until you give up on it and neglect it or throw it away in a forgotten corner. Then up they sprout!
The ideal time to separate out the seedlings is when the first leaf is fully opened. This is something like two or three weeks after the leaf first appears above the surface. As long as the seedlings are getting water and have enough root depth, you can leave them together for another two or three months if you hope for more seedlings to appear in a second round of germination.
With some palm species, the first roots going down push the seed and the first seed shoot into the air so the seed is hanging above the surface. This is nothing to worry about and this part of the plant will die as it is by now redundant.
The palm seedlings can be separated out down to the bareroots and planted in individual bags appropriately sized for the palm. Before planting, you might want to soak the roots for an hour in water with a drop or two of vitamin B. The ideal life of a palm is: seed -> seedling in a bag (one or two years) -> young plant in a pot (two or three years) -> in the ground.
We hope this page has answered your palm seed germination questions. If you have bought seeds from The Palm Seed Center, thank you for your business. If you are now ready to buy seeds, you are already in the right place!