Propagating Chamaerops From Suckers

A spin-off from the lively letters on the subject, Dave explains how it can be done.
Dave Brown, Chalk, North West Kent.
Chamaerops No.31 Summer 1998

I have always had the urge to propagate anything exotic by whatever means available. So I have tried all sorts of experiments, mostly unsuccessful, but I have had the odd success. The main problem that I’ve had recently, is with propagating palms from fresh, personally collected seed, as opposed to catalogue bought seed. I expected to get about a 10% success rate, but actually achieved over 90%. This resulted in 107 Phoenix canariensis, 89 Phoenix roebellini and 67 Washingtonia robusta seedlings. Most of which were unsaleable until 3 years old. I currently have self sown Dicksonia squarrosa seedlings growing in the palm pots. They seem to like the overhead irrigation system in the outer unheated conservatory.

I am always looking to increase my palm collection, although now mainly with the more hardy types, that can be planted out, in a North West Kent garden.
In June 1993 my family accompanied me to the Palm Centre at Richmond to purchase my birthday present. I’m not allowed to go on my own, after coming home, on several occasions, with a car load of palms. It’s not the price of the palms that causes the objections, but the cost of continually extending the conservatory, and needing a machete to get through it. After the obligatory hour of telling the children not to touch, or run through Martin Gibbon’s palm paradise. I finally chose a 4 ft (126cm) Butia capitata and a reasonable sized clump of Chamaerops humilis.

The Butia was planted out in spring 1994, and has sailed through the cold winters of 1995/96 and the even colder, windier 1996/97 so far.

In early July 1993 the Chamaerops just seemed to have too many suckers for me resist an attempt at propagation. I counted over forty, with the base of the larger ones being about 2" (5cm) in diameter. It seemed to be a cheap way of propagating Chamaerops, as the suckers were about the size of 3 year old seed grown palms.

Not having removed palm suckers before, I was not sure how to go about it. I decided to just bend them downwards until they broke free. This was easier said than done! The vicious teeth on the petioles were a major problem, even with stout, hide gardening gloves. Eventually I managed to detach 24 of the larger suckers, but it took over 4 hours, and I was a bit alarmed at the lack of plant material that came away with the sucker.

The suckers were cleaned up, the outer leaves removed, dipped in hormone rooting liquid and potted deeply in 2 litre extra deep shrub pots in a coir/bark/grit mixture.. Initially plastic bags were put over them to conserve moisture, but it became all too apparent that this would cause problems with rotting, so they were removed.

The suckers were left in a shady place in the garden for the remaining Summer and Autumn. In late Autumn they were moved into the conservatory. By the following spring (1994) 6 of the smaller ones had succumbed. The rest were consigned to the south facing patio. In late summer 1994 there was no sign of grown in any of the surviving palms. A test was carried out by removing the compost from one palm. No roots were evident after 14 months, although the top was still firm and green, so they were surviving - just. On closer examination the base of the sucker was starting to rot. All suckers were removed from their pots, inspected, cleaned up by cutting out any rot and stood in a bucket of Benlate fungicide (now withdrawn from sale) for 24 hours. A further inspection revealed that 7 suckers were beyond any hope, which left 11 of the original 24 with no roots, 14 months later.

The survivors were repotted in the same, disinfected, pots but, this time in a 50/50 coarse grit/peat mixture. I have stopped using coir altogether it now, everything seems to rot in it. The particles are too fine, leading to compacting and lack of oxygen.

Another year passed, late summer 1995, now down to 7 survivors. - still no sign of top grown, but a huge root appeared out of the pot of one of the smaller palms, followed a couple of months later by a very small spear. To date, January 1997, I have 6 surviving Chamaerops out of the original 24 suckers taken. 1 is a reasonable size now, although still smaller than it was when taken from the parent plant. The other five are all much smaller, about the size of an 18 month seed grown palm, even though they were at about a 3 year size, 3 1/2 years ago. The only thing in their favour at the moment is, boy are they hardy. They are looking fine even after being frozen in their 2 litre pots for over 2 weeks.

In conclusion - my experiment worked - Chamaerops can be grown from suckers, but the failure rate in lost suckers is high, and seed raised palms would have been bigger if sown when the suckers were taken. All in all, the best way to propagate Chamaerops is the seed method, or to buy them already grown.


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