An excellent 'How to' article, this time about
the tricky business of germinating the seeds of our biggest palm,
Jubaea chilensis, together with the very best Jubaea photo I've
Michel Lambreghts, 8 Rue Albert 1er, 4620 Fléron, Belgium
Chamaerops No.21, Winter Edition 95/96
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Photo: Jubaea chilensis in the south of france
Since the very beginning of my interest in palms,
Jubaea chilensis has always been a secret star to wish upon. A star,
because of its impressive beauty, its massive mature stature, its
cold, frost and fire tolerance, its coconut-like fruits and, also,
because of its relative rarity in nature and in palm nurseries.
As my passion (should I say my love ?) for Jubaea seems to be shared
by many palm enthusiasts, I think that my personal experience in
germinating 'coquitos' will interest many friends of the European
Palm Society. Because Jubaea seeds are often said to be slow and
hard to germinate, because I had previously tried it so many times
without any success and finally, because when talking with palm
nurserymen I've often felt that there is something like a "taboo"
regarding the discussion of germination techniques for this small
'coconut'. During my previous trips to the south of France, I always
brought back a dozen seeds and put them, scarified or not, in various
mediums and at different temperatures, but without any result. Somehow
they simply refused to sprout, even after a year. During my summer
holiday last August, I came across a private garden near Hyeres,
where four fantastic mature Chilean Wine Palms stood in single file
(see the photograph). They were all in fruit, but unforttmately
all immature, with green soft skin. At first glance, I saw none
lying on the ground. Too early in the year: such a pity! Then I
looked closer, not with my eyes, but with my fingers. I felt around
in the grass beneath the trees and discovered more and more seeds.
They were obviously naked seeds from previous years, the youngest
of them being at least one year old. Not too long a time for trying
germination? After a pleasant talk with the owner, I was allowed
to collect as many seeds as I wished. And for sure he found it very
funny to watch me walking on my knees! When I had filled a full
plastic bag, the owner invited me to taste coquitos' and cracked
some of them with a stone. It seemed a crime to me! Like eating
sleeping babies lost in vegetable ivory. . . But I must admit that
it was delicious. And this was also the beginning of my success
in sprouting Jubaea seeds. Cracking! It was just a matter of cracking.
I had read it before but found it too dangerous for my precious
seeds. But with dozens of them, it was worth a try, especially when
I realised that most of the seeds had been cleared of their fibres
by Mother Nature, slowly, in the grass. A first pack of about a
hundred seeds were cracked (with a stone, as the old French man
showed me!) and the endocarp was completely removed, without hurting
the endosperm. This is not an easy task, so you have to practice.
Just be patient and don't worry, for this is the only arduous step
of my sprouting recipe. These seeds were then placed to sprout in
a warm humid environment. Hundreds of other entire seeds underwent
the same germination conditions. One month later, some seeds of
the first group began to sprout and, four months later, about thirty
Jubaea babies were born. Meanwhile, none of the endocarp coated
seeds had germinated. Perhaps they will do later, who knows?
Maybe some of our friends, who don't know this trick,
would like me to give some more advice. Let's go on, then, with
the complete recipe! Firstly to sprout the seeds in best conditions
-though I'm really not a specialist in this but just a palm enthusiast
as you are. Secondiy to care for the seedlings, as 'infant mortality'
seems to be another problem shared by Jubaea growers.
Guidelines for Jubaea seed germination:
1. Collect enough seeds. With just a few of them,
germination will be too hazardous. Fresh seeds become available
in September/October. But as seen in this article, older ones will
also give some good results.
2. Remove most of the mesocarp fibres to facilitate
the cracking procedure. Soaking the seeds in water for one or two
days may improve this step. Seeds from previous years have often
lost their fibres.
3. Crack and completely remove the endocarp. For me,
the best way is to strike a single blow to make the shell explode.
Repeated strokes increase the risk of damage!
4. Select the supposed viable seeds. A "good"
endosperm displays a chestnut brown skin. The fertile germ is identified
as a "flat bright brown tear" stuck on the surface of
the endosperm. Exclude endosperms which are cracked, flaccid, dark
brown and dehydrated, or which smell bad.
5. Treat as a preventative with a fungicide. Naked
endosperms are particularly vulnerable and can rot easily. Place
them in a sterile and well drained medium, such as a mix of peat
and coarse sand (1:4).
6. Use individual small clay pots rather then a large
seed bed. Individual pots prevent rotting seeds from contaminating
the other ones. It also prevent roots damage by avoiding early transplantation.
Small clay pots will further provide better conditions for the seeding,
especially for temperature, humidity and air exchange with the environment.
7. Cover the seeds with just a few millimetres of
sand and spray with fungicide as a watering.
8. Place the pots in a saucer and wrap them with a
plastic bag to maintain moderate humidity.
9. Put your 'treasure' in a dark warm room (I put
mine in the cellar) . To my great astonishment, temperatures ranging
from 20° to 25°C appeared to be sufficient, but best results
are said to be achieved with 25° to 30°C. Use a bottom heating
system if necessary.
10. Open the plastic bag daily to allow fresh air
to get in. Spray with fungicide when the humidity seems to reduce.
Never allow the medium to be waterlogged or to dry out. Both could
mean the death of most seeds. Well! You just have now to be patient
and your sleeping Jubaea babies will soon wake up!
Caring for Jubaea seedlings:
11. Remove sprouting pots when the seedling is about
one centimetre high. It means that the root has already developed
and that the seedling is surely strong enough to enter the second
step of its life. . . in full light.
12. The general guideline is now to minimize any stress
to the seeding. With your small clay pots, you have no hazardous
transplantation to do. Do not overpot the seedings (leave them to
rest in peace, for as long as a year?)
13. Keep warmth and humidity for the first weeks,
for example by placing an inverted plastic bottle on the pot. Warmth
will improve root growth.
14. Use fungicide and allow the sand slightly to dry
15. Begin a light feeding programme as sand is a poor
growing medium (though the endosperm will provide all nutrients
at first). Be prepared to loose some seedlings, maybe for the first
Chilean Wine Palm is not Phoenix nor Chamaerops. .
. Nevertheless, good luck with your future Jubaea forest and tell
us about your results!
Cracking the seeds and completely removing the endocarps
appears to be an interesting method to germinate Jubaea. The general
method described here is said to be efficient for other Butiinae
such as Butia species. Especially for Butia yatay, whose seeds also
display a very hard endocarp and a very long germination period.
I will try this year, and also with Parajubaea.
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