Shoots 'n' Roots

A practical, personal article, alternative title: 'Adventures of an Amateur Propagator'
Paul Saunders. 23 Summerfields Drive, Blaxton, Doncaster, DN9 3BH, U.K.
Chamaerops No.25 Winter 1996/97

Following the article by Stefan Mifsud of Malta on germinating palm seed, I thought I would put my recent first experiences on paper to share with other palm enthusiasts. On 21st September 1996 1 went along with my family for the annual holiday to Majorca, staying in a small resort named Sa Coma. Palm trees in fruit were everywhere - paradise, I thought! The predominant species were Washingtonia filifera, Chamaerops humilis, and Phoenix species. The Washingtonias were in heavy fruit, small green fruits hung below the leaves. As I am 6'2 tall, I was able to stretch a long arm and pull off a few of the lowest fruit, however, on examination it was clear that the seeds were far from ripe. So down onto my hands and knees. I found hundreds of small round black seeds (about half the size of a pea). I collected many but wondered if they would still be viable.

Later, when walking up the main street I noticed that some of the fruits on a couple of the Washingtonias were distinctly browner than the previous ones. On checking the ground below these trees I found many freshly fallen brown fruit. Carefully opening up the fruit I found a clean fresh seed - perfect! Many were collected, much to the surprise of the other tourists.

Next I searched for Phoenix canariensis Fortunately, the local authority gardeners were stripping the lower branches of the P. C. 's and many fresh orange fruit were to be found lying on the ground. As for Chamaerops humilis, whilst there were many specimens locally I struggled to find any in fruit. I had hired a car for a few days and on a trip to Forinentor I found a grove of Chamaerops growing wild, adjacent to a car park. There were many plants in fruit and many fruits on the ground. Even more exciting though was the vast number of small seedlings. Not having a trowel with me, I used a stone to dig one up. It now survives in my greenhouse.

On coming home on October 5th, I re-read the article on seed germination in the no. 23 Summer issue of 'Chamaerops' My pocket did not - stretch to purchasing a propagator, so for £9, I bought a max/min thermometer and put it in the airing cupboard. This revealed a maximum temperature of 32ūC and a minimum of 26ūC. Ideal I thought. I cleaned the fruit off all the seeds and soaked them in warm water in the airing cupboard for 24 hours. I then planted, on October 6th, about 100 Washingtonias (both old and fresh seeds) and about 60 each of Phoenix canariensis and Chamaerops humilis. They were sown in individual modules about 1 inch across by 2 inches deep (2.5cm by 5cm). On the 6th day I started poking my fingers into the soil and to my great astonishment I noticed small white shoots emerging from the Washingtonias and on day 9 I noticed white sprouts emerging from the Phoenix!

On October 2Oth, 15 days after sowing, I took the trays out of the airing cupboard. At this stage the Washingtonias had a i/4 inch white sprout just above the soil surface and the Phoenix had 1 inch long white roots which were still heading down into the soil. The trays were placed on slatted greenhouse staging and a small i/2kw electric heater was placed underneath to provide some bottom heat. On the 21st day after sowing I found one Chamaerops seed had a 1 inch long white root identical to that of the Phoenix. These seeds remain in the airing cupboard as even now, 25 days after sowing, only 5 have sprouted. But for Chamae rops it is still early days.

It is now 3Oth October and the Washingtonias in the greenhouse are growing slowly but surely, the tallest are about 1-1 1/2inches. The Phoenix have a much more vigorous initial root development and those in the small modules quickly developed 2-2 1/2 inch white shoots. I have potted these up into individual 3 inch pots, about 30 in all. As well as the the seeds mentioned I potted up about 25 seeds of the edible date, Phoenix dactylifera I ate the fruit and soaked the seeds as before for 2 days. I then planted these all in a 15 inch (35cm) pot and placed it in the airing cupboard on 8th October. The first white shoots appeared after only 12 days! Now, on the 3Oth October, almost all have shoots, the longest about 3inches. I already have 4 date seedlings grown from seeds sown in March. These now have 7inch dark green spear leaves.

The temperatures in the greenhouse at present, with the heater, are averaging 21ūC by day and 10ūC by night. Due to the fact that my garden faces north, it gets very little sun at this time of year to heat the greenhouse further. I hope this has given to other palm enthusiasts some encouragement to collect seeds and sow them. Expensive propagators aren't always a necessity. I have never sown palm seeds before and I do not know whether they will survive the winter in the greenhouse.

One question l would like to ask is this: Do the initial white shoots on Phoenix and Chamaerops which push deep into the soil, turn and push upwards through the soil surface to become the first green leaf? Or does a separate shoot develop and push straight up with the initial shoot developing into the first root? In due course, ie. springtime,l intend to write a follow-up to inform readers of the progress of the seedlings. In the meantime. good luck to all palm growers for the rest of this this winter!
Paul Saunders. 23 Summerfields Drive, Blaxton, Doncaster, DN9 3BH, U.K.


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