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How to germinate palm seeds

April 15, 2013

Time now seems right to embrace the palm family (Palmae or Arecaceae)!

Making friends with International Palm Society member Ken Banks (from Hawaii), Chiang Mai palm collector Khun Vasin who generously gave us some new species; and the Bogor Botanic Gardens director Dr Joko Ridho Witono, who is a palm specialist, gives me access to invaluable knowledge in addition to books such as ‘Palms and cycads of Thailand‘.

In spite of 1100 other plants, the Dokmai Garden palm collection is still in its infancy, just displaying just a dozen of the most conspicuous species you see when visiting Chiang Mai. The palm family encompass some 2400 species worldwide, mostly tropical and subtropical. The upcoming rainy season (any day now) will provide an environment suitable for additional planting, and palms, orchids and border plants will have priority this year.

When Ken Banks visited Dokmai Garden he brought an interesting gift of seeds. He said it is a Siphokentia (syn. Hydriastele sp.) from New Guinea with ‘shockingly pink’ flowers, possibly an undescribed species. The species make compact clumps of tall and slender stems. His advice to germinate palm seeds is to put them in a plastic bag with moist Sphagnum moss. The bag must be kept warm and indeed the current hot season triggered their germination:

Siphonokentia-Hydriastele seed germination.72

In this picture you see two brown Siphokentia palm seeds in the centre, to the left are more seeds still embedded in moistened moss, and to the right the light roots of germinating palm seeds. Germination may take many months, so make sure to put the plastic bag at your coffee table so you can monitor it regularly. A cleaning frenzy is the most severe danger so inform your family that these dirty bags are more precious than a car. These seeds began germinating five months after I received them but I am not sure how long time they had been inside their bag before that.

According to ken Banks germinating seedlings can stay quite a while inside the bag, but make sure not to break a root which may cause a severe setback, if not death. If the brittle roots of many seedlings get entangled, you need to transplant.

You may want to add water now and then, making sure the moss stays moist but not wet. Upon germination, transplant to a pot with a good compost and incubate in a shady and moist nursery. Let the seedlings grow there for at least one season. Putting the pot on another upside down pot ensures drainage and prevents rooting into the soil.

These seedlings are due for plantation in the rainy season of 2014. Since many palms are dioecious (separate genders like in humans) you may want to plant a cluster of seedlings to make sure both genders are represented to assure future fruit formation. The geographical origin of the plant will tell you how to treat it (e.g. full sun or shade, ever moist or seasonally wet and dry). The scientific name will help you in finding out the geographic origin and other interesting information.

Read more: A practical guide to germinate palm seeds.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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