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Happy (or Crazy) Germination!?

Have patience when it comes to germinating palm seeds, and don't give up too soon. So advises Germany's Joerg Schuman
by Jörg Schumann, Rathausplatz 2, 09247 Röhrsdorf, Germany
Chamaerops No.37, Winter Edition 2000

Acrocomia, a beautiful but spiny palm.

A few years ago I started growing palms. I had several species, but only one of each species which I bought in some nurseries. In 1990 I first collected some seeds of Archontophoenix cunninghamiana and Syagrus romanzoffianum in La Palma/Canary Islands. I didn’t have any experience in germinating palm seeds at this time. The success was a germination rate of 100 %. It worked! I wasn’t prepared for that, and found that I had more palms than I expected; and so, this when I started to think about selling palms. Now, ten years later, I can make a review of so many different experiences in growing palms and in germinating palm seeds. As such, I decided to share those experiences with others, and here I invite you to take a look at what I’ve discovered.

What is the most important thing you have to think about when you want to germinate palm seeds? They must be fresh! Or not? Most of you may say - what else?
Well, you may be right for nearly all palm seeds, because most of the seeds will lose their viability after a few months, some even after a few weeks. In my opinion most of the tropical palm seeds will lose their viability faster than the seeds from cold hardy palms. The reason for this could be that the sprouts are damaged by cold temperatures when they grow more quickly. But is fresh best all the time? My experience says not necessarily.

In 1997 I got some seeds of Acrocomia totai, a species I was very interested in. No seedlings or young plants were available at this time, so I bought some seeds from Toby Spanner. I had a look at the seeds every week for a year after sowing. Nothing! Then I lost my interest and put the seeds in a far corner, and after some time I forgot about them. The seeds did not have any humidity and were completely dried up by December 1999. By chance I rediscovered the seeds after Christmas 1999, and since I felt sorry for the dry globes, I poured some water over them, but I never really thought that there was still life in them.

I don’t know why, but after three weeks I had a look in and - to my surprise - some seeds were germinated! I couldn’t believe that, after such hard times, the seeds were still good. But one after another started to germinate. Apparently they liked it!

I remembered this event after sowing some seeds of Licuala spinosa in winter 1998. Most of them germinated well after some weeks, but some of the seeds didn’t do anything. There was a germination rate of 80%, and this was ok for me. After potting the seedlings, I mixed the germinating substrate together with another substrate without giving it much thought. After repotting a large Pseudophoenix sargentii some time later, I saw that some sprouts had come up from „Down under.“ What was this? A couple of weeks later it was clear: This was Licuala spinosa! After 20 month! Really!

Now I won’t be surprised when some sprouts come up next to my Carpentaria or next to my Johannestejismannia. I’ll wait a while and then it is clear. Here a seedling of Coccothrinax miraguama, there a seedling of Arenga porphyrocarpa, and here a seedling of Beccariophoenix...it’s full of suspense. From these experiences I can tell you never to throw away your used germinating substrates! The experience I had with Acrocomia should be the same for Phytelephas or Parajubaea: It seems that they must dry out for a longer time (Phytelephas for instance up to 3 years!).

Let me tell you two of the important things I learned through all this: Don’t believe all that is written in books about germination times, and don’t throw away the seeds until they are really gone. Note these rules, and you will experience pleasant surprises from time to time, and maybe even increase your germination rates like I have. Maybe some of you have had the same experiences, or completey different ones. Take a pencil or your computer and write it down for CHAMAEROPS. We’d like to hear about it. Happy (crazy) germination to all of you!


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