Parajubaea - Palms with Altitude

(page 2)

The two biggest problems are firstly getting hold of seeds and secondly germinating them. Cocoides seeds have been available before and appear regularly in seed catalogues but torallyi is much more difficult to obtain although the Seed Service does offer them occasionally. The next problem is germinating them - they have a low germination rate. It can take anything from six months to several years.

The seeds of torallyi are extremely large and heavy - bigger in size than an extra large walnut shell with three distinct ridges. P. torallyi microcarpa, has much smaller, smoother seeds with only faint ridges. The hard outer shell - the endocarp - contains the endosperm from which the seedling germinates. It is important to leave the whole seed, if fresh, in a warm, dry place for at least two months before even attempting germination. This allows the endosperm to loosen from its tough, outer shell and aids germination. The seeds can be soaked in a weak fungicide for two days and then placed just below the soil surface in a loose, open mixture, kept moist in a warm place. It is also possible to break the endocarp with a hammer or file down the extremely hard, wrinkly shell, making several wedges in it to allow moisture to enter it to aid germination. However, be warned that the hammer method may damage the endosperm if the blow is too hard as I discovered myself with several crushed seeds flying everywhere, which I promptly ate! The endosperm looks and tastes like the flesh of a miniature coconut with a sweet, pleasant taste and it is indeed often found for sale in the open markets of Ecuador.

My P. torallyi seeds took about a year to germinate. They are currently growing in a mixture of pure horticultural sand, bark chippings and perlite in containers measuring six inches diameter by sixteen inches depth - that's not a typing error, the containers really are that deep. This is because once the seeds germinate they send out a strong, penetrating taproot that goes directly downwards before top growth commences. It is important that the seedlings have a deep root run and as such specialised container sizes are almost impossible to obtain, I'd visit a hardware store and buy some plastic drainpipes. These are then cut to the length required, with a bottom made up with drainage holes and filled with an extremely free draining but moisture retentive mixture.

Apart from its unsuitability for container culture due to its need for an unimpeded root run, the single root system does not regenerate if damaged so it should never be transplanted once planted out. However, this has to be weighed against its vulnerability as a seedling in a cold climate and therefore a three or four foot plant might be a good size to plant out, with winter protection should prolonged freezes threaten.

Another limiting factor to successful cultivation outside its natural habitat is excessive summer heat, and especially hot or humid nights - day temperatures of 32c (90f) would be too high. This palm is not adapted to tropical or sub-tropical climates where it will rot and decline rapidly. The key is cool night temperatures, which is crucial to strong, vigorous growth. It should be grown in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun from an early age but must be carefully acclimatised.

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