Growing Palms from Seed
by Ian Edwards
Linospadix monostachya sets seed readily and self-sown seedlings occasionally appear, but they are slow growing. Some other palms regularly produce self-sown seedlings: Howea forsteriana, Sabal minor, Trithrinax brasiliensis and Arenga engleri. The latter become scattered about the garden, no doubt by birds. They are easily identified by the characteristic shape of the first leaflet which is silvery underneath. Potting up such seedlings gives you a start of a year or two.
Unwanted seedlings also appear around the garden,especially Phoenix sp., easy to identify by the groved date-like seed and Bangalows, also easy to recognise by fine hairs on the stem. These weeds are easily pulled out.
If you are a palm grower and are lucky you can collect seedlings in your own garden. Many chamaedoreas will self-sow in Sydney. Chamaedorea cataracterum, C. elegans, C. glaucifolia, C. microspadix, C. radicalis, C. schiedeana and C. tepejilote have all produced seedlings under or near the mother plant. Thus your own garden may be a source of seeds. Some palms like Areca triandra set seeds dependably. Others are more erratic.
Seeds are more likely to set after good rainfall; if the inflorescences appear in spring, and if there is more than one inflorescence or another palm is flowering. Apart from the self-sowing types mentioned above, I have occasionally been able to germinate seeds from Arenga cordata, Calamus caryotoides, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, Euterpe edulis, Lytocaryum weddeliana, Synechanthus fibrosus, and after hand pollination, Chamaerops humilis.
Again, the easiest and most rewarding are the chamaedoreas. Most species set fruit if you have both sexes, even better with hand pollination – and they germinate readily.
Fruit ripening on Chambeyronia macrocarpa
Seeds from your own garden or that of a friend should germinate well, being fresh. Another advantage of such seeds is that you are germinating a palm that you know will grow well in our climate. During the years when the International Palm Society had a seed bank I germinated many species, only to have most die when young. They were not suited to our climate.
Many ways have been suggested for germinating
most of which I have tried over the years. Now
I use a simple and reliable method, suited to an amateur wanting to
germinate a few seeds without going to any trouble. First of all the
seeds must be cleaned of fruit pulp.
Ripe chamaedorea fruit are easily
cleaned by simply squeezing them, making the seed pop out. For most
other seeds the fruit will need to be scraped off with a sharp knife.
Some palm fruits irritate the skin, so
it might be best to wear gloves.
Then wash the
seeds well: some palm fruits are said to contain
chemicals that inhibit germination. If you have had dry seeds sent to
you, soaking them in water for two days is usually recommended. I still
do this, although recently the need to do so has been questioned.
Another step, again queried by some, is
to disinfect the seeds. It is easy enough to do: 10 minutes in 10%
Germinate the seeds in cocopeat, as the coconut coir wets and rewets much more readily than real peatmoss. It should be damp but not wet. About 2–3 cm in the bottom of a sealable plastic lunch bag, size 15 x 9 cm, is suitable for a dozen or so of most seeds, although for large seeds you will need fewer seeds and more cocopeat, enough to cover the seeds.