Answer: With most palms, propagation from seed is not difficult as long as a few basic requirements are met. Among the most important are fresh seed, good sanitation, proper medium, proper hydration, and adequate heat.
The fresher the seeds are, the better the results will be. To check the freshness of your seeds, cut open a sample seed and inspect the endosperm and embryo. The embryo should be fresh, firm, and not discolored. If the interior of the seed is rotten or has an unpleasant odor, it is unlikely to germinate. The endosperm is of two types, homogeneous or ruminate, and may be hard, oily, or even hollow. If the inside of a homogeneous seed is off-color, such as brown or gray, or if it smells bad, the seed is old or was harvested before maturity. Such seeds are also unlikely to germinate. In a ruminate seed, the seed coat is infolded, creating dark, tangled streaks in the endosperm. Ruminate seed is more difficult to assess because of its more complex appearance.
The fleshy or fibrous fruit pulp frequently contains growth inhibitors. Removing it before planting will improve results. Methods for doing this vary with the quantity and type of seeds, but most begin with a preliminary 48-72-hour soak in water. Soaking causes the pulp to ferment, which weakens it for easier removal. Change the water daily during the soak. Fruit that is slightly immature should be placed in a tightly closed plastic bag and kept in a warm spot for a week or so. This promotes ripening and softens the outer flesh for cleaning. Sometimes the seeds need to be soaked further to soften the pulp, sometimes not.
There are several ways to remove the seed coat. With small quantities of seeds, simply rub them by hand against a fine-meshed screen and wash away the pulp with water. Another way that works well with small amounts of seed is to shake them by hand in a closed container with water and small, rough-edged rocks. Pour off the water and pulp occasionally, add more water and shake again, until the seeds are completely clean. Seeds can also be cleaned with a knife or other sharp tool, but this is slow and a little dangerous.
After cleaning the seeds, hydrate them by soaking them in water for 24 hours, especially if you did not soak them to help remove the pulp. Within 24 hours most fresh, viable seeds will sink. There are exceptions such as Manicaria saccifera and Metroxylon vitiense, whose viable seed will float even after cleaning and soaking.
Fungi flourish in the heat and humidity necessary for good germination, so equipment, fixtures, seeds and growing medium must be kept clean to prevent damping-off and other disease problems. You may want to soak seed in a fungicide before planting.
Germinate the easy varieties in a commercial mix of peat moss or sterile sphagnum moss mixed with an equal amount of perlite or vermiculite. You may also use commercially prepared, finely cut coconut coir to which the same fast-draining material has been added. Sand, wood chips, screened rock or volcanic cinder screened to a maximum size of 9 mm can substitute for vermiculite or perlite. Whatever you use, the medium should be very porous and drain extremely well. All containers should have plenty of holes in the bottom to ensure quick and thorough drainage.
When containers and planting medium are ready, bury the seeds in the medium to a depth of half the seed diameter and then cover everything with finely screened cinder (3-6 mm particle size), thick enough so it will not wash away during watering. This top-dressing dries out quickly and discourages the moss that grows on peat. Sand or finely crushed rock would work just as well. When planting is complete, place the containers on clean benches, 60-90 cm above the ground.
At this point, the most important factor in seed germination is proper hydration, followed by constant high heat. Maintaining proper hydration is the trickiest of the two. Water your containers thoroughly, but just as important, let them dry out thoroughly before watering again. Over-hydration can drastically reduce the germination percentage. Once seeds begin to germinate, the containers will require more frequent watering. Seeds should be kept at 26-35'C. Some growers provide constant bottom heat by means of electric pads on their benches.
If you've done everything else right and your seeds are still not germinating, you may need to provide bottom heat to get your palm seeds to germinate.
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