Does nicking seeds speed up germination?

This was originally submitted as a question on our old Trebrown forum.

“I was wondering if nicking seeds helps speed up germination on bananas and palms, specifically Jelly Palm seeds? What I mean by nicking is that you cut, scrape or grind away a small piece of the outer seed shell/husk so moisture can quickly enter the seed. I do this on some of my tropical water lilies and lotus and it works great. Thanks, Mike.”

The process is called scarification, where the outer seed coat is scratched to better improve water permeation to reach the Endosperm (seed). It can be done, and many people will swear by it as speeding up germination. We here germinate hundreds of thousands of seeds every year and we NEVER do this. If you attempt this you must be very careful not to go too far and break through and damage the seed. This is the best way to rot your seeds. Of-course the seed needs water to germinate, and many hard coated seeds, if they are very dry or oily will reduce that flow of water. I know from experience that the best way to hydrate seeds is to soak them for longer. Up to a couple of weeks if necessary, but usually 3 days will suffice. Warm to hot water is better. However, make sure you change the water daily or you’ll deplete the required oxygen from reaching the seed, and fungus could also attack the seed. Seeds have hard seed coats to protect the seeds. It’s natural, and seeds will germinate with their coats on. Perhaps one exception could be used if you are persistently trying to germinate as many Jubaea chilensis or Butia species as you possibly can. This process cannot be used for all Butia species, just the fatter seeds. That is, if you’ve tried to germinate a batch of seeds and there are a few remnants after trying for a whole year, then you can try completely removing the whole shell. To do this you would need to crack open the shell in a vice and carefully remove the soft seed without damaging it. It will be obvious to you if the seed is still good or not. The good seeds must then be dipped in a fungicide and germinated in sterile conditions. These will either germinate within a month or die. So always leave this method as the last option. There are many methods used for germinating different kinds of seeds. The oily seed requirement is an important one, which requires frequent washing and leaving seeds in the sunshine to heat-up and dissipate the oil, a process developed for pre-treating Oil palm seeds (Elaeis). There are too many methods for me to list in this thread. I’ll leave those for specific species questions. But I will answer your questions here Mike. Bananas – always soak for a few days. Adding a teaspoon full of potassium nitrate to the water will soften the shell. Always plant the seeds in a regular seed mix. Don’t try the baggie method. 30°C. Keep the soil moist, and the plants humid. Jelly Palm – Butia capitata (I mentioned it above) Soak the seeds for up to 2 weeks if necessary. Adding a teaspoon full of potassium nitrate to the water will soften the shell. Germinate in sealed plastic boxes in a simple medium like Perlite, Vermiculite, Coir or Peat, where the seeds lie on the surface or half buried in the medium. There must be an inch of air space at the top of the tub. And the temperature must fluctuate between about 5°C – 35°C (40°F – 100°F). Seeds will take a month or 2 to start germinating. The ungerminated seeds can then be soaked again, and tried again.

“Thank you Phil for the quick reply. Wow that was a great explanation. It made a lot of sense. I was already soaking the Jelly Palms but will continue for another week with regular water changes. Where do you get potassium nitrate from? Mike.”

Potassium nitrate is the saltpetre, or saltpeter (American spelling) used in gunpowder manufacture. Chemical formula KNO3. I don’t know where you are in the world Mike, but you can no longer buy this off the chemist’s shelves here in the UK. It used to be easy to get, but I guess these days they’ve found alternative remedies for the ailments it was used to treat, and it’s a banned product for obvious reasons. Ironically, those who want to buy it to make explosives can still do so in the large quantities they need direct from the wholesale suppliers in the USA. That is your problem! You would need to buy it in massive quantities, which is not practical for the average seed grower. It really isn’t necessary to use this though. Just soak your seeds for longer if necessary. Seeds from Butia, Jubaea and the rest of that family respond well to temperature fluctuations. Whenever, you need to re-soak your remnant seeds try putting them in a glass jar of water and leave it in the hot sun in a glasshouse all day. That method of soaking really makes them jump.

“Well all this info came at the perfect time. I have Butia x Jubaea seed that arrived today. Cheers, Las Palmas Norte.”

Paschalococos disperta The Extinct Palm from Easter Island

Moai Statues on Easter Island

Moai Statues on Easter Island

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands. It is 3,600 km (2,237 mi) west of continental Chile and 2,075 km (1,290 mi) east of Pitcairn in the South Pacific Ocean, and is a volcanic island, consisting mainly of three extinct volcanoes. Easter Island is famous for its monumental statues, called moai, created by the Rapanui people. The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen named the island Easter Island when he encountered it on Easter Sunday 1722. At that time he visited for a week and estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island, and noted a seashore lined with stone statues. When British explorer James Cook visited Easter Island in 1774, he reported a reduced population, and the statues as being neglected with some having fallen down. Easter Island was approached many times during the 19th century, but by now the islanders had become openly hostile towards any attempt to land, and very little new information was reported before the 1860s. A series of devastating events killed or removed almost the entire population of Easter Island in the 1860s. In 1877 there were just 111 people living on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring.

Paleobotanical studies of fossil pollen and tree moulds left by lava flows indicate that the island was formerly forested, with a range of trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses. The original subtropical moist broadleaf forests are now gone. A large palm, Paschalococos disperta, related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), was one of the dominant trees. This palm is now extinct. Introduced trees are now sparse on Easter Island, rarely forming small groves. The island once had a forest of palms, and it has been argued that native Easter Islanders deforested the island in the process of erecting their statues. The disappearance of the island’s trees seems to coincide with a decline of its civilisation around the 17th and 18th century. Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half still remain in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest elsewhere on the island, probably on their way to final locations. Legend says that the statues walked to their final resting places around the island, but probability states that it would have taken 50 men and heavy rollers to move the statues, the largest of which weighing 82 tons. These rollers would have had to be very large and points to them being of the size of Jubaea chilensis sized trunks 4-6 ft in diameter.

Easter Island palm tree glyphs

Easter Island palm tree glyphs

Paschalococos disperta was almost certainly indistinct from Jubaea chilensis. All evidence; heavy trunks 80 ft tall, pollen from lake beds, hollow endocarps (nuts) found in a cave, and casts of root bosses all being identical to those of Jubaea chilensis. We even have glyphs carved into wooden tablets which distinctly depict the unique Jubaea chilensis palm tree shape.

If we take a look at the life-cycle of Jubaea chilensis then the reason for the human demise becomes much more apparent. Jubaea chilensis produces a massive, columnar, smooth trunk. The trunk has a wide girth (4-6 ft) for approximately 50 years of its growth. During this first 50 years the tree is not yet of reproductive age and does not produce fruits. After 50 years of growth the trunk then narrows down to less than half of its previous girth forming the typical wine bottle shape. It is only then that the tree starts to reproduce. Therefore, if you assume that the people cut down the larger trees first then they have systematically stopped all reproduction of the species until younger trees reach fruiting age. The people would have lost an important food source in the nutritious nuts, and there would be no new seedlings. We then assume that the people in their demand for rollers and dugout canoes would have cut down the next largest of the palm trees. Therefore, delaying reproduction of the trees yet further. If they were only left with young trees then waiting 50 years for reproduction would have been unrealistic and any trees that were left would have been cut for rollers without hesitation. Assuming they looked upon the moai statues to bring them prosperity then as hardship for the islanders worsened they would have increased production of statues, using up more and more rollers until they were all gone. And with no more wood to build boats for fishing the people died out.

The overall picture for Easter Island is the most extreme example of forest destruction in the Pacific, and among the most extreme in the world: the whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct.

Palm Seed Storage Behaviour

A comprehensive guide to storing and germinating palm seeds

If you have read any article about germinating palm seeds then the general advise would have been that the fresher the seeds are, the better the results will be. This, on the most part is very good advice and is a good method to work to. However, you will undoubtedly find that you do not achieve 100% germination of your seeds. Some species will germinate better than others, but some species will repeatedly produce poor results for reasons possibly relating to the environmental conditions that you are germinating them in. However, you should consider the fact that a palm tree may produce a large quantity of non-viable seeds within any bunch, and some seeds within a bunch at the time of harvest may not be fully matured enough. Also some seeds amongst the bunch may have a parasitic insect infestation which is not visible to the outside of the seed. Damaged seeds can often be removed as floaters during the initial seed cleaning process by the collector and this is usually the case, as the collector tries to ensure the quality of the seeds he is supplying. (Note: not all palm seeds sink in water).

Consider this simple experiment:

Take 2 random samples of 100 seeds from a fresh batch of seeds. One sample is planted immediately in your preferred method for germinating palm seeds (the method that works best for you). The second sample is soaked over night in water and then allowed to become touch dry before placing in a sealed plastic bag for cool room storage. If the bag quickly mists up on the inside under normal room temperature then the seeds were not dried enough. Remove the seeds from the bag and dry some more before re-bagging. These, now soaked, then dried, then bagged seeds are now stored in a slightly cool room out of direct sunlight for a period of 3 months. After the elapse of 3 months, remove the seeds and soak overnight once again. The next day discard any seeds that are floating on the water, and discard any seeds that are obviously not looking good. You must now count exactly how many seeds out of your 100 you now have left. Now plant the second batch of seeds using the same method as the first batch. After a considerable time (perhaps one year) has elapsed, and you now have all the visible seedlings you are likely to get from the two batches you should now count how many you have in each batch. The results, if everything was done correctly will show about the same number of seedlings in each batch, though the germination percentage will be much higher in the second batch per number of seeds planted. For this reason germination percentages mean absolutely nothing at all without recognised benchmarks by which to calculate. A reputable seed supplier will know the expected shelf-life of his seeds, and will have made every effort to keep the germination percentage per seeds supplied to the optimum. Which explains why you often get higher germination percentages from older seed supplied.

Obviously this is an example and few species of palm have similar optimum seed storage requirements. But from a growers perspective a simple way of guessing is to consider the natural environment of the species. A species from a tropical jungle will have seeds that generally have a very short shelf-life, there will be losses if the seeds are fresh or if they are stored. If stored the seeds will become much more difficult to germinate and the losses will be higher, most tropical, low elevation palms’ seeds will lose viability if stored at temperatures below 15°C (60°F). If it is a species from arid deserts then a preliminary storage together with regular testing will usually produce a higher germination rate of supplied seed. Other considerations are that if the species comes from high altitude then they usually have a naturally low seed water content and these seeds can usually be stored under cool conditions for periods of time.

The traditional method for testing if a seed is good is to slice it in half and take a look at the embryo. If the embryo is malformed, discoloured, or smells bad then it is unlikely to germinate. But if it looks good then it is still not going to grow because you’ve just cut it open, and even good looking seeds (if not cut open) can still be inviable. Obviously many species are rare, and the few seeds which may be available can be expensive. Cutting open seeds to look at and sniff is not a good idea. Besides, many palm species produce what is known as a ruminate seed, where the seed coat is enfolded, creating dark, tangled streaks in the endosperm. Ruminate seeds cannot be inspected very easily. For these we can however use the Tetrazolium Chloride test to give us a much more accurate and quicker result. The method is to Mix a 1% (10 gm/l) aqueous solution of tetrazolium chloride. Cut a sample of the seeds in half to expose the embryo and place the half containing the embryo in the solution. Put the container in the dark for 2-24 hours. On inspection, if the embryo stains partially or completely red or pink, it is probably viable. If there is no stain, the seed is likely inviable.

It is a good idea to test sample seed lots for viability before purchasing large quantities. If the Tetrazolium Chloride test is beyond you try using the seed float test. The seeds are placed in water for 24 hours and those that float are discarded as inviable. However, some palm seeds naturally float because they are dispersed in nature by water. Furthermore, some growers have found that if the floating seeds are planted, a sizable number will in-fact germinate.

For some species of palm namely Butia and Jubaea it appears that 3 months warm dry storage of seeds is required prior to planting. More research is needed to identify why this is. However, it may be that the embryo requires a period of time to fully mature. We know this to be true for many Cycad species. Cycad seeds must be dry stored for a period of 3-12 months before planting, whereas fresh seeds can quickly rot when planted. The seeds of the Cycad genus: Macrozamia can be stored for six years and still produce 100% germination.

With few exceptions palm seed should be collected when the fruit is completely ripe (showing full colour), or as soon as it falls from the tree. A few exceptions have been noted. Seed from green fruits of queen palm Syagrus romanzoffiana germinate better than seed from half-ripe or ripe seed, perhaps due to inhibitors in the fruit.

For seed banking purposes palm tree seeds are generally considered to be ‘non-orthodox’ Most plant species have seeds that stay viable when dried to the low moisture contents necessary for long-term storage. These are termed ‘orthodox’ species. Palms fit into the categories of recalcitrant and intermediate species, where a medium to high water content must remain in the seed, and seed cannot be conserved long-term in a seed bank via pre-drying and freezing.

The water content of the developing seed is similar to that of any actively growing tissue – about 70 to 80 percent. As the seed reaches maturity and the stage at which it is shed from the plant, its moisture content drops rapidly. The amount of water that remains at maturity depends on the species of the plant and the environment in which the seed matures. The seeds from tropical rain forest palms generally contain over 50% moisture, whereas palm species’ seeds from arid environments can have very low, almost orthodox levels of water content. Similarly, palm species which grow at high elevation have seeds which contain around 18% less moisture than related species at low elevation. This lower water-holding capacity of seeds from higher elevations suggests that plant tissues that must survive severe cold usually contain less water than those of warmer climates. The mechanism by which the living seed is protected under such varying conditions of development can be related to their chemical composition.

When water and heat are applied to a seed the embryo within the seed draws on its endosperm for the nutrients it needs to germinate and grow. A delicate balance of internal conditions regulates its life processes. The living seed is able to incorporate small molecules and simple substances such as glucose, phosphorus, and sulphur into complex chemical units of a cell. These organised parts are the cell wall and the protoplasm, which contains the cell nucleus. Enzymes act as the go-between in these conversions and building processes. The energy for this work comes from the breakdown, or catabolism, of some of the cell’s chemical components, usually by combining them with oxygen in the process called respiration. Most of the seed components from which the enzymes of the protoplasm and cell walls form new cells can be classed as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, organic acids, and amino acids. Thus the seed lives as long as its outside and internal environments maintain active enzymes and a good balance of chemical substances. Only under these conditions can the embryo, the result of the fusion of the sperm and egg nuclei, produce new cells and a healthy plant.

Moisture, temperature, and gases, particularly carbon dioxide and oxygen, can affect markedly the enzymes and chemical components of the living seed. Fungi, insects, bacteria, chemicals, or light can diminish or destroy the seed’s power to germinate. Many of the same factors, in the right concentration or combination, can enhance the life processes of the seed. Although enzymes are present in dry seed, they are activated only on movement of water into the seed. As the temperature increases, the rate of metabolism enzyme activity also increases. One measurable product of this metabolism is the amount of carbon dioxide given off and oxygen taken up. A rapidly metabolising seed has a higher gas exchange rate than a quiescent seed. If the energy made available by respiration is not used in growth, it is liberated as heat, and the temperature of the stored seed goes up. Water content, one of the most important factors in seed viability, therefore cannot be considered alone. If the water content within a seed is too high, large amounts of the chemicals required for growth will be used up. The seeds will then be unable to germinate when they are placed under proper conditions. Removal of too much water from the seed also causes death.

Changes in organic compounds also occur with the uptake of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide in living, but non-growing, seeds. If these seeds are germinated, the rate of respiration increases, and the chemical changes, uptake of oxygen, and release of carbon dioxide are easy to detect. The gas atmosphere surrounding mature seeds can determine if the seeds remain alive. If a container of seeds is evacuated and the oxygen pressure reduced, the seeds keep better than in air. Lack of oxygen retards respiration. Palm seeds planted too deeply in the soil, where little oxygen is present, will not live. As the depth of planting increases, the available oxygen and seed survival decrease. Wet or poorly drained soils also lack oxygen and inhibit the living processes of the seed. Ravenea musicalis is remarkable in being the only truly aquatic palm species. It grows in a single fast flowing river in Madagascar. It’s seeds germinate while still on the parent tree and then drop into the water, sink to the bottom, and commence growth under water. Most seeds immersed in water for lengths of time will die unless air is bubbled through the water. Also a shortage of oxygen usually kills a seed when the temperature or respiration is high. This happens because enzymes need oxygen to produce energy for growth of the embryo. The energy is released when the enzymes combine oxygen with various cell compounds. Good air circulation is therefore an essential ingredient for germination of palm seeds under their high temperature environmental requirements and is one of the primary reasons why seed soaked in stagnant water, or seed germinated using the polly-bag (Baggie) method so often fail. Direct sowing of palm seed into deep pots of a well drained soil produces a much better yield and a much safer option to the polly-bag method of germination.
Sometimes, however, high levels of oxygen are not required by the living cell to obtain energy from its chemical compounds. Some seeds have an abundance of the anaerobic enzymes, which function without oxygen. These enzymes produce enough energy for certain life processes. The Nypa fruticans palm is an unusual and primitive example that grows in tidal mud banks, in mangroves and even in salt water in tropical Asia. Its seeds do not require much oxygen to function. The cells of the embryo and seedling have a system of anaerobic enzymes and a special kind of respiration that requires little oxygen. Its seeds can remain viable and germinate under water which contains too little oxygen for the survival of most seeds.

Carbon dioxide, the end product of respiration, also has marked effects on seed viability. If it accumulates inside the seed or in the soil environment surrounding the seed, injury may result. The role of carbon dioxide is difficult to study, because gas concentrations inside and outside the seed may differ widely and the effects vary with the temperature. Accumulation of an enzyme product, such as carbon dioxide, in the living cell slows down the enzyme that produces the product. When seeds are stored for a long time, factors that increase the carbon dioxide around them frequently must be controlled to assure maximum viability. Fungi and bacteria can produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. These micro-organisms commonly occur on and in seeds. They, too, require water to grow, and drying the seed to low moisture inhibits their activity. Bacteria and fungi also contain enzymes, which metabolise and convert chemical compounds. They usually affect the chemicals on the seedcoat or in the seed. Some fungi or bacteria produce chemicals that harm the embryo. Some may produce compounds or excrete enzymes that soften the seed-coat, so that air and water diffuse into the seed and hasten its metabolism and loss of viability. Others may metabolise and exhaust the seed’s storage compounds. Old seeds and seeds that are stored under unsuitable conditions of moisture and temperature are particularly susceptible to attack by micro-organisms, usually to the detriment of the seed. The seedcoat therefore often is treated with a chemical disinfectant before it is stored.

Old seeds, which show marked decreases in nonsoluble carbohydrate or protein, germinate poorly. The breakdown or coagulation of protein in old seeds may advance so far as to modify the protein present in the nucleus. When that occurs, the seeds usually die. If such seeds do germinate, they frequently produce mutant plants. Some success has been achieved by attempting to replenish the carbohydrate or protein food source for the embryo by soaking the seed in seaweed extract fertiliser prior to sowing. Preliminary studies on ancient lotus seeds report the presence of an enzyme called L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase which may play a role in anti-ageing through their repair of proteins. Research such as this may one day provide a rejuvenation product for use with old palm seed.

Inhibitors, including many compounds that occur naturally in living seeds, keep the seeds dormant until conditions are favourable for germination. Some seeds contain compounds that enforce dormancy until there is enough water in the soil to leach the inhibitors out of the seed. The concentration of such inhibitors diffusing out of seeds or roots may be great enough to prevent germination if seeds are sown too close together or too close to other plants. But these same inhibitors, reduced to sufficiently low concentration, may stimulate germination. Many of these inhibitors are lactones; parasorbic acid and coumarin are two examples. They apparently prevent germination by inactivating certain enzymes necessary for elongation of the radicle. Palm seed sown in a well drained soil soon degrades any inhibitors there may be in the seed, even if the fruit is still on the seed.

Keeping seeds alive requires the consideration of many important physical and chemical factors. We now know enough about the manipulation of storage environments to at least minimise undesirable changes in most palm seeds for up to several years for some species. Yet many so-called short-lived seeds do not retain their viability even under the best known procedures and ongoing study is required.

Communal Pots for Palm Seedlings

Growing large numbers of palm seedlings economically

This was originally posted on the Trebrown forums in 2006. The thread is now closed. However, you’re welcome to leave a comment on this blog.

"I have large quantities of Phoenix sylvestris, Phoenix loureiri var. humilis, and Phoenix reclinata. I would prefer to avoid planting each seed into individual pots, as this would be very costly and time consuming on my part, so I’d like to grow them directly in the soil. Would it be possible to sow them directly into the soil, or should I try the ‘baggie’ method and then transplant directly into the ground when I see signs of root growth? Would either of those give good results? I’ve already got some Phoenix canariensis in baggies that have sprouted, and I’ve put half of them in pots – the other half are still in the bag as I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just stick the rest in the ground. Any help with this would be appreciated."

Well! I guess the first question should be; Where are you? If you’re in a reasonably warm climate then you stand a good chance of germinating them in the ground. Phoenix generally germinate better when planted in pots rather than by using the poly bag method. They need quite a bit of moisture, which when given to them in the bag tends to rot them faster. They need heat. Around 30°C (90°F) you might get away with about 25°C but germination will be slower and you may have some losses. So if you can maintain these temperatures in the ground then they will germinate. They are not too fussy about soil types. The main problem you’ll have by planting them directly into the ground will be losses through animals eating them.

"Thanks so much for your reply. I live in the US in North Florida – some sources say US zone 9a, others say zone 8b. It’s pretty warm here (averaging mid 70’s to low 80’s F, with evening temperatures in the high 50’s to low 60’s right now). I would assume it’s not warm enough to get them to germinate directly in the ground right now? Perhaps sow them in flats and transplant into the ground when they show signs of growth? My soil is quite sandy and somewhat dry, which would make germination even more difficult I’d think, unless I were to amend the soil where I’d plant. I’m primarily concerned with having to place them all into pots, as with the amount of seeds I’ve got, it would prove to be very costly and time consuming on my part. Jason."

Hi Jason! Yes! You’re better off planting them in pots. But not flats though! Especially the P. silvestris. You’ll find that these will send down radicals to about 12" to 18" from the outset. That will make it very difficult to prise the roots out later. The best way to handle Phoenix on a mass scale is to plant them in very deep communal pots. Get a deep pot and place a piece of fabric over the holes in the bottom. Then fill the pot ¾ full with a coarse sand or grit about 4mm. Then the last quarter fill with compost. Throw the seeds on top. They can completely cover the surface and be piled two seeds high. Then cover with about 1" of compost. Place the pot on a hotbed about 90°F, water well and cover with plastic. Depending on the species, the seeds will germinate on mass in about 1 or 2 months. Water regularly (being such a well drained medium, you’ll need to water daily). After about a year in that pot there will be a mass of roots. But not to worry about that, the roots will easily lift out of the coarse sand with minimal damage. You might want to place a few stones on top of the seeds to hold them down and force the roots through the sand. They have a tendency to push themselves right out of the pots.

"Your technique for starting them sounds really good to me – I will try it that way and definitely report back with how it worked out! You’re sure that it’s a good idea to leave them in the pots like that for a year though? Will they not set out leaves after a couple months? That’d be quite a tangled mess I would think, but at least it gives me some time to figure out if I should then pot them up individually or just plant them in rows in the ground. What say you? Anyhow, thanks a ton for your advice – it’s much appreciated!"

Jason I raise 10s of thousands of Phoenix seedlings every year! There is no other way to do this more effectively. There will be a lot of roots, but if you have a deep enough pot the roots will be mainly straight. I didn’t mean to say ‘lift them out’ in the last thread. I’m just used to saying that. You can’t pull them out. You tip the pot on it’s side and gently pull the plants. The sand will just fall off the roots. The longer (up to about 24 months) you leave them alone the less plants you will loose through transplant shock.

One thing I ought to mention is feeding! For the first year and part of the second the plants take all of their food from the seed. After that time they will require feeding on a regular basis, because the sand holds nothing for them. It is usually better to lift them after the first year. Even young (two year) seedlings would get eaten if you transfer them to the ground. You would be better off potting them on. Despite what some people say about under potting palms, Phoenix like over potting in deep pots, and plenty of water during the growing months.

Communal Pots

I’ve had people ask about the method of growing palms in communal pots. So here is an example of the best way to handle Phoenix palm seedlings on a mass scale – Plant them in very deep communal pots. Get a deep pot and place a piece of fabric over the holes in the bottom. Then fill the pot ¾ full with a coarse sand or grit about 4mm. Then the last quarter fill with compost. Throw the seeds on top. They can completely cover the surface and be piled two seeds high. Then cover with about 1" of compost. Place the pot on a hotbed about 90°F, water well and cover with plastic. Depending on the species, the seeds will germinate on mass in about 1 or 2 months. Water regularly (being such a well drained medium, you’ll need to water daily). After about a year in that pot there will be a mass of roots. But not to worry about that, the roots will easily lift out of the coarse sand with minimal damage. You might want to place a few stones on top of the seeds to hold them down and force the roots through the sand. They have a tendency to push themselves right out of the pots. Adriaan asked:

a) For which species can I use this method of (mass) planting?
b) How deep should the pots be to give the roots plenty of space for growing in a straight line down?

To answer the second question first; Always as deep as possible! This depends on the species, some species produce very long roots from the outset, up to 60cm (2 feet) long. Others produce much shorter roots. You need to know what the species you’re growing requires. But It’s generally better to provide a deeper soil than you need. The answer to the first question is much more general; I grow most species of palm using similar methods, but not all. Some species, and I’ll use Bismarckia nobilis as an example ought to be planted individually in their own deep pots, because deep rooting species like this don’t like having their roots disturbed. But for most other species; they get planted in my nursery in one of two ways; The one I’ve already mentioned, using a lot of sand, and for species with a more tropical requirement, and where they require better water retention in the soil I use only ¼ of sand in the bottom of the pot with the rest of the pot filled with compost. With Phoenix and several other species; The seeds can be sown directly into the pots. But most species of palm require some kind of pre-sprouting method like the ‘baggie’ method with applied heat.

"Thanks for you answer. But, when I use this method, is there no problem with the small leaves? Example; Trachycarpus fortunei will make some wide leaves, is the space for the leaves no problem? And a pot of 60cm deep? That’s almost impossible to handle. Can you give some more specific depths for some species like : Cycas revoluta, Wodyetia bifurcata, Dictosperma album, Trachycarpus fortunei, Phoenix canariensis, Phoenix loureiri var humilis, Phoenix roebelinii, Roystonea regia, Ravenea rivularis, Chamaerops humilis, Archontophoenix alexandrae, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, Pachipodium lamerei and the Pritchardia thurstoni? I hope you can give 1 or 2 depths which I can use for most species. And I assume that this method wont work with cycas revoluta and wodyetia bifurcata seeds, or do you think that will work also? Thanks Adriaan."

Hi Adriaan. That’s a lot of questions for one thread! The first bit about the leaves; I don’t really understand! Palms being Monocots start life by producing a single strap leaf. They will produce about five strap leafs before they start producing their true leafs. In the first year (depending on species) they will only produce 3 or 4 leafs. The mass planted seedlings look like grass growing in the pot. Yes! Deep pots are always hard to find. But if you’re growing on a really large scale you can use large bins. On a smaller scale, try using specialist palm pots or rose pots. It’s not too expensive to fill these pots because you’re using mainly sand. Wodyetia bifurcata does very well in communal pots. But I grow my Cycads in individual pots. I know some people do grow Cycads in communal pots. I won’t answer your question here for all the different species you mentioned. It would get too long! But one I ought to mention is Ravenea rivularis. I grow these in communal pots with a lot of sand, but these really need a lot of water, so you must remember to keep watering them. For the other species; you need to think of their requirements. Are they deep rooting species (radicle forming)? or are they shallow rooting species? Do they require a very well drained soil or do they require a good water retaining soil? These answers can be found in books about the individual species or you can ask here about a particular species. But I generally give each species a few cm deeper soil then they will use.

"What is best method of mixing your own potting soil for: A) sowing seeds and B) replanting palm seedlings? I live in the Caribbean (hot climate all year. What should I include to make the seedling grow healthy and good? Please include quantities for your suggestions. Hamilton."

Hamilton, I make all my own seed and potting mixes. For many palm types the seed mix should not contain any loam (garden soil) for some it is OK but I don’t for any palm seeds. The best seed mix is simply 50% peat or cocofibre and 50% course sand. That works well for most palms, but I make a 70% peat to 30% sand mix for some of the more tropical and water requiring palms. For potting on it’s more complex, but I try to replicate the natural environment’s soil from the origins of the palm as much as possible. A potting mix should be rich in all trace elements and as deep as possible.

Deep Pots

If you live in the USA there are a couple of manufacturers of very deep pots. Namely, Steuwe and Anderson Die. I have considered importing these into the UK before, however I’m still not sure if the extra cost is justifiable. Deep rooted palms do pose a real problem, because a relatively small plant requires an exceptionally deep pot, and if you were to use an oversized pot for these it over inflates the cost of the plant commercially. Flower buckets make excellent communal pots for sprouting palm seeds on mass. We use plastic fish boxes or other similar boxes commercially for this purpose. But this doesn’t provide an answer for potting individual palms. Although the flower buckets are suitable for some of the larger species. For potting on we have taken to using the black expandable gusset polythene pots that were popular a decade or more ago in the nursery trade. The commercial sizes are not suitable so we have these manufactured to our specifications. I.e. we have the standard commercial sizes but we add 2 to 3 times the height to the pot. The drawback is that expanding palm roots will soon split the bags. But we use that as an advantage and plant the bag with the plant in larger pots as and when needed. This aids the plant by minimising root disturbance during re-potting. These expandable gusset pots also offer a number of other advantages i.e. the much cheaper cost, and you can cram a lot more plants on to a single growing bench allowing minimal run off of liquid fertiliser.

I can only think of one instance where one would plant seeds direct into the poly pots. That is for Jubaea. Those seeds are sprouted first then planted in 1-litre narrow poly pots which are filled only with sand. The sand prevents rotting which so often happens with Jubaea, and of course seedlings don’t require any nutrients in the soil, as they get all that they need from the seed. As soon as the roots start breaking through they are potted on, bag and all in a proper growing medium. I suppose you could do the same with Brahea, Bismarckia, Borassus, Attalea, Butia, Corypha, Hyphaene and many more of the exceptionally deep radicle forming species. We don’t though; we plant all the higher value deep rooting species direct into their own rigid pots from the outset. Butia are communally planted. The gusseted poly bags are used almost exclusively for potting-on until a deep rigid pot is justified.

"When can I move my seedlings outside?

I now have various palm seedlings in pots on windows sills and in propagators around the house from seeds I bought from you. Now that I have bought a greenhouse, would you be able to advise at what time of year I could bring some of these outside into the greenhouse. I have all sorts from individual Euterpe edulis pots to communal pots of 100’s of Washintonia (looks like grass) Also, does a greenhouse speed up the growing process? As you advised in another thread seedlings grow about 4 strap leaves per year and I just wondered what helps this speed up; i.e. direct light from a lamp on the plants when in the house in the winter? Thank you Douglas."

Hi Douglas, It’s the number of Growing Degree Days (GDD) in the year that will make your palms put on the most growth. So obviously you’ll maintain those temperatures better indoors or under glass than you will outdoors. Your glasshouse may not be as warm as your house at this time of year, so you’re better at making the decision when to move them. Your glasshouse will maintain better light and humidity than your house though, and your palms will welcome that. Your potting on from the communal pots is very much different for each species. At most you would only want to leave them communal for 2 years. But the Washingtonia and Euterpe are very fast growers and you should over pot these now, feed them well and stand back and watch them grow, both require a lot of water during the growing months.

"Thanks for your response Phil. Does that mean each individual strap leaf plant needs to go in its own pot or could I just take the rose pot I’ve got 100’s in and pot into an even bigger pot? Thank you Douglas."

Hi Douglas, If the plants are too crowded then they will self thin themselves out until only the one strongest plant remains. They not only need to be potted up individually, but they need to be done with care not to damage the roots, and they’ll need very deep, over sized pots. If you’ve followed my advice from above then you will have planted those Washingtonia communally in very deep pots or boxes. In the bottom half of the pot would have been course sand. Now when you gently lift the seedlings out you will find that the sand falls off the roots, and with a little gentle prying you will be able to separate all the seedlings without damaging any of the roots. When a palm root gets damaged, then that root will die back to the base of the stem, where a new root will grow to replace it. If you damage all the roots (and there are probably only 2 roots per seedling) then the plant has no roots, and will die before it has chance to put out any more. Palm roots are not like other tree roots. You can’t prune them in the hope of making them bush up. This is the same for mature palm trees. If you want to transplant a mature palm you should dig around the tree one year, then return the second year to under cut. This will permit new root growth around the surface of the soil from the first lot of damage, and mean that the tree has a new set of roots to carry it through the transplant. You must find the deepest pots you can find for your Washingtonias. The same is true for all desert palms. These send down long roots through the sand in search of water, and you need to accommodate these roots as best you can. And despite what I’ve heard some people say, Washingtonia will grow very very fast if they’re over potted in large pots, well fed, and given plenty of water during the growing months.

Araucaria araucana

This was originally posted on the Trebrown forums in 2006. The thread is now closed. However, you’re welcome to leave a comment on this blog.

"Dear Sirs, I have received from you the seeds of Araucaria araucana. Could you give me an instruction how to handle it? What is the best procedure for germination? Many thanks in advance. Yours sincerely Dr. Pavel Křivka"

Monkey Puzzle seeds

Monkey Puzzle seeds

Monkey Puzzle seeds have no dormancy. Therefore, they are simply planted when fresh. They can be planted in pots or in the ground. However, the main problem with these is that they attract mice from miles around, and the only sure way I have found to stop these getting eaten is to sprout them in sealed boxes. Get a plastic sandwich box with a sealable lid. Put about 5 cm of damp moss in the bottom, then put the seeds in with their point downwards. With the temperature at about 20°C they will start to germinate within 5 days. To try and stop them germinating straight away you can keep the temperature lower, and then raise the temperature when you want them to germinate. The only problem with that is that several will die if they don’t germinate straight away. Mice and rabbits will eat the sprouted seeds also, so you might want to cage the potted plants until they grow bigger. You will be able to see the roots forming by looking through the underside of the plastic box, if the plastic box is transparent. It makes it very easy if it is.

Germinated Monkey Puzzle seeds

Germinated Monkey Puzzle seeds

The Monkey puzzle tree is the iconic living fossil. A prehistoric tree dating back to the late Triassic period 210 million years ago. The tree’s armoury of sharp leaves is probably an evolutionary adaptation to protect it from browsing dinosaurs. Of-course the tree predates the dinosaurs and probably became extinct in its northern hemisphere range at about the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, only surviving in South America.

There are 20 known species of Araucaria. Only one other is found in South America: Araucaria angustifolia. Two species are found in Queensland Australia: Araucaria bidwillii, and Araucaria cunninghamii. Two species are known in New Guinea: Araucaria cunninghamii var. papuana, and Araucaria hunsteinii. One is found on Norfolk Island: Araucaria heterophylla. All the remaining 13 species are found on that prehistoric island, and plant diversity hotspot that is New Caledonia: Araucaria bernieri, Araucaria biramulata, Araucaria columnaris, Araucaria humboldtensis, Araucaria laubenfelsii, Araucaria luxurians, Araucaria montana, Araucaria muelleri, Araucaria nemorosa, Araucaria rulei, Araucaria schmidii, Araucaria scopulorum, Araucaria subulata.

Araucaria araucana female strobili (cones)

Araucaria araucana female strobili (cones)

Araucaria araucana male strobili (cones)

Araucaria araucana male strobili (cones)

Read the detailed Araucaria araucana information and distribution map contained in the Trebrown Species Database.

Climate adaptedness in palms

Predicting Cold Hardiness in Palms

Climate adaptedness, I feel is a better term than Cold hardiness

The nature of one’s growing season has a profound effect on “cold hardiness”. Cold hardiness zone maps will provide indicators as to the minimum temperature a species may have been subjected to. However, that data is insufficient. Therefore, we must look at the physical map for that specie’s natural distribution range where this will indicate many other vital statistics; Latitude, Altitude, and environment type. The environment type indicates the amount of vegetative cover, topography, total sunshine in hours, total rainfall in mm, number of rainy days, etc..

Thermally, the summers of climates that have some cold weather limitations in winter fall into three groups:

Group 1: warm – daytime temperatures in summer are consistently warm and remain elevated during the night. Over 2500 GDD per annum* (semi-tropical and low desert climates).

Group 2: mixed – warm daytime temperatures in summer may be mixed with cooler days or cool mornings. There is a considerable drop in temperature during the night. 1000-2500 GDD per annum* (warm Mediterranean and semi-arid inland climates).

Group 3: cool – warm daytime temperatures are the exception rather than the rule. Nights are consistently cool. Fewer than 1000 GDD per annum* (mild maritime and subtropical montane climates).

We should then breakdown this still further, by including specific local environment conditions at that local; I.e., Latitude, Altitude, and environment type.

All of these group examples above are “Hardiness Zone 9b” climates, all very different. Whether or not any given palm will adapt to the given winters depends, in large part, on how thermophilic the palm is, not just on how well it tolerates occasional frost, which is how most people read hardiness zones to be. Rhopalostylis sapida, for example, is not thermophilic at all. It grows slowly in temperate conditions and giving it additional heat does not accelerate its growth. Butia capitata is moderately thermophilic. It grows slowly in temperate conditions but prefers subtropical conditions and giving it additional heat does accelerate its growth. One could classify “cold-hardy” palms as belonging to climate group 1, 2, or 3 depending on what kind of summers they prefer. The problem with the recognised list of “temperate palms” is that it mixes palms from all three groups with little regard for limitations imposed by the nature of the growing season, and environment type associated with the specific specie.

Another limiting factor is seasonal precipitation. In ideal conditions, most palms would prefer equi-distributional rainfall. With cold winters, however, dry winters are best and a strong rainfall peak in spring or summer produces the best growth. Having a marked rainfall peak in winter adds another limitation to what kind of palms will grow in a “temperate” climate.

*Growing Degree Days per year calculated on a base of 12°C. As the temperature most temperate palm species commence growth.

GDD are calculated by taking the average of the daily maximum and minimum temperatures compared to a base temperature, Tbase, (usually 10°C). As an equation:
GDD calculation
GDDs are measured from the winter low. Any temperature below Tbase is set to Tbase before calculating the average. Likewise, the maximum temperature is capped at 30°C because palms generally do not grow any faster above that temperature.
For example, a day with a high of 23°C and a low of 12°C would contribute 5.5 GDDs.
GDD example

Example climate models compared with Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

Here we examine examples of the climate models for species:

Climate at Trebrown Nurseries, Cornwall, UK. (12 Months. Hardiness zone zone 9b).
Sunshine (Hours) 2h 3h 4h 6h 7h 7h 6h 6h 5h 4h 2h 2h
Av. Night Temp. 4°C 4°C 5°C 6°C 8°C 11°C 13°C 13°C 12°C 9°C 7°C 5°C
Av. Day Temp. 8°C 8°C 10°C 13°C 15°C 18°C 19°C 19°C 18°C 15°C 12°C 9°C
Precipitation 99mm 74mm 69mm 53mm 63mm 53mm 70mm 77mm 78mm 91mm 113mm 110mm
Rainy Days 19 15 14 12 12 12 14 14 15 16 17 18
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -8°C. But this was a one-off. Otherwise -4°C. 887 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 1620, Total rain = 950mm. Total rainy days = 178.
So from this data we can see that despite the large amount of rain, the UK still gets a reasonable amount of seasonal sunshine. For those who don’t already know this, this makes the UK a great place for gardening. This amount of sunshine is attributed to the long summertime day length, a consequence of being so far north of the equator. The downside is the minimal sunshine during the winter months, combined with the fact that most of the rain falls in the winter. There is little summertime extreme heat, and little temperature swing between summer and winter. The winters are extremely mild. Finding palm species, that thrive in these conditions is challenging.

Chamaerops humilis. Climate in Madrid, Spain. (12 Months).
Example: Mediterranean
Sunshine (Hours) 5h 6h 6h 8h 9h 11h 12h 11h 9h 6h 5h 5h
Av. Night Temp. 2°C 2°C 5°C 7°C 10°C 15°C 17°C 17°C 14°C 10°C 5°C 2°C
Av. Day Temp. 9°C 11°C 10°C 18°C 21°C 27°C 31°C 30°C 25°C 19°C 13°C 9°C
Precipitation 39mm 34mm 43mm 48mm 48mm 27mm 11mm 15mm 32mm 53mm 47mm 48mm
Rainy Days 8 7 10 9 10 5 2 3 6 8 9 10
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -10°C. for this provenance. 1551.2 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 2790, Total rain = 445mm. Total rainy days = 87.

Madrid is better compared with London rather than Cornwall, because London shares the same average Min. Temp. (2°C), and the same record Min. Temp. (-10°C), both being a zone 9a. Here in Cornwall, we actually have a better hardiness zone than both those zone 9b. We all know that Spain is a better place to grow palm trees, so why is that? – 58% more sunshine than the UK, this almost entirely due to the 91 fewer rainy days. The consequence of this being far less available water, 505 mm less than the UK. Making this climate hot, dry, and arid.
Chamaerops humilis will grow almost anywhere in the British Isles, and we don’t ever get temperatures low enough to harm it. However, it grows very slowly here.

Butia capitata var. odorata. Climate in Uruguay. (12 Months).
Example: Campos (Grass-land).
Sunshine (Hours) 5h 6h 7h 8h 10h 10h 11h 10h 9h 8h 6h 5h
Av. Night Temp. 6°C 6°C 8°C 9°C 12°C 15°C 17°C 16°C 15°C 15°C 9°C 6°C
Av. Day Temp. 14°C 14°C 17°C 20°C 23°C 26°C 28°C 28°C 26°C 26°C 18°C 15°C
Precipitation 47mm 66mm 99mm 99mm 84mm 81mm 74mm 79mm 76mm 66mm 74mm 79mm
Rainy Days 6 7 6 6 6 7 6 5 5 5 5 5
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -4°C. for this provenance. 1961.8 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 2850, Total rain = 951mm. Total rainy days = 71.
So this is basically a Mediterranean climate, but with twice the rainfall over fewer rainy days. The rainy days are also spread quite evenly throughout the year, providing excellent growing conditions, with a long growing season. The exact same amount of rain as the UK, but fewer rainy days, which in turn produces more sunshine hours. It is clear why Butia capitata grows so well in the UK. With more sun it would be completely at home here.

Washingtonia filifera. Climate in Arizona, USA. (12 Months).
Example: Arid Desert.
Sunshine (Hours) 8h 10h 11h 12h 13h 14h 13h 12h 12h 10h 9h 9h
Av. Night Temp. 4°C 6°C 8°C 12°C 16°C 21°C 25°C 24°C 21°C 13°C 7°C 4°C
Av. Day Temp. 18°C 21°C 24°C 28°C 33°C 38°C 40°C 38°C 36°C 30°C 24°C 19°C
Precipitation 20mm 20mm 18mm 10mm 3mm 3mm 25mm 25mm 18mm 10mm 15mm 23mm
Rainy Days 4 4 4 2 1 1 6 6 3 2 3 4
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -13°C. for this provenance. 3315.4 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 3990, Total rain = 190mm. Total rainy days = 40.

At first glance at the record min. temp. -13°C., and climate zone 9a most people will assume that Washingtonia filifera will grow easily in the UK. This palm is adapted to a very harsh and arid environment. It likes a lot of sun, high temperatures, dry air, and any cold snaps to be very short. It does like its roots in plenty of water, but it totally dislikes freezing moist air, and for this reason this palm can be killed at a mere -4°C in the UK. It can be grown in the UK, but requires a little attention.

Parajubaea torallyi var. torallyi. Climate in Pasopaya, Bolivia. (12 Months).
Example: Tropical, High Mountain.
Sunshine (Hours) 9h 8h 7h 6h 6h 6h 6h 5h 5h 6h 8h 9h
Av. Night Temp. 1°C 2°C 3°C 4°C 6°C 6°C 6°C 6°C 6°C 4°C 3°C 3°C
Av. Day Temp. 17°C 17°C 18°C 19°C 19°C 18°C 17°C 17°C 18°C 18°C 18°C 18°C
Precipitation 10mm 13mm 28mm 41mm 48mm 94mm 114mm 107mm 66mm 33mm 13mm 8mm
Rainy Days 2 4 9 9 11 18 21 18 16 9 5 2
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -4°C. for this provenance. 1064.5 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 2430, Total rain = 575mm. Total rainy days = 124.

This is a climate comparable to the UK except for the fact that the temperature swings between Min., & Max. temperatures occurs between day and night within a single day, not summer and winter seasons, as in the UK. We can assume that Parajubaea torallyi dislikes seasons, or it would have migrated south down the Andes mountain range after the last Iceage. And we can assume that this palm dislikes high temperatures, or it wouldn’t be growing at such a high altitude in the tropics. Parajubaea torallyi grows at the highest altitude of any palm (3,400 m).
Parajubaea torallyi seems to tolerate the UK temperatures, because we have minimal temperature swing between summer and winter. However, it grows very slowly.

Rhopalostylis sapida. Climate in West, South Island, New Zealand. (12 Months).
Example: Wet Temperate.
Sunshine (Hours) 4h 5h 5h 5h 6h 7h 7h 6h 5h 5h 4h 4h
Av. Night Temp. 3°C 3°C 6°C 8°C 9°C 11°C 12°C 12°C 11°C 8°C 6°C 3°C
Av. Day Temp. 12°C 12°C 13°C 15°C 16°C 18°C 19°C 19°C 18°C 18°C 14°C 12°C
Precipitation (mm) 218 239 226 292 267 262 262 191 239 239 244 231
Rainy Days 16 16 17 19 18 16 14 12 14 14 15 15
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -5°C. for this provenance. 642.5 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 1890, Total rain = 2910mm. Total rainy days = 186.

Here we have a climate almost exactly the same as the UK, except for the massive 1960 mm of additional rain falling in almost the same umber of wet days as the UK. This is the southernmost range of Rhopalostylis sapida on mainland New Zealand, and is the ideal provenance to grow in the UK. This palm also grows in areas of New Zealand with much less rain than this. Nevertheless, we can assume that the rain in the UK would not deter this palm from thriving here. The palm seems to prefer higher temperatures if it can get them, and temperatures below -5°C. can easily kill it. Rhopalostylis sapida grows very slowly both in the British Isles and New Zealand.

Trachycarpus fortunei. Climate on Zhoushan Island, China. (12 Months).
Example: Temperate.
Sunshine (Hours) 4h 4h 4h 5h 5h 5h 7h 7h 5h 6h 5h 5h
Av. Night Temp. 1°C 1°C 4°C 10°C 15°C 19°C 23°C 23°C 19°C 14°C 7°C 2°C
Av. Day Temp. 8°C 8°C 13°C 19°C 25°C 28°C 32°C 32°C 28°C 23°C 17°C 12°C
Precipitation 48mm 58mm 84mm 94mm 94mm 180mm 147mm 142mm 130mm 71mm 51mm 36mm
Rainy Days 6 9 9 9 9 11 9 9 11 4 6 6
Winter Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Record min. temp. -12°C. for this provenance. 2113.9 GDD per annum

Total sunshine hours = 1860, Total rain = 1135mm. Total rainy days = 98.

Here we have the climate, which is the best match to the UK. This particular provenance of Chusan Island is wetter and sunnier than the UK, but if you compare the average climate over the whole, wide range of Trachycarpus fortunei in China then you will find that it matches the UK very well. Trachycarpus fortunei enjoys the longer day length in the UK summer, and it can be said that the palm actually grows better in the UK than it does in China.


Finding an exact match to the UK climate is impossible, due to the fact that the British Isles lies so far north of the equator, where both winter and winter nights are long. No other place on the planet, which shares similar winter temperatures is situated so far from the equator. Studying hardiness zones alone does not indicate species suitable for growing in the UK. All palms, which can be grown here would prefer more winter sunshine than they can find in the UK. On the plus side; the British Isles’ mild winters permits us to grow more species, albeit uncomfortably than any other place situated this far from the equator, 50°N – 60°N. Studying climate modelling statistics of palm’s provenance’s in this way has so far identified over 130 (and counting) species as likely candidates for trial in the British Isles. But only by actually trialing them in the ground here can we identify the specie’s tolerances.

Musa formosana

This was originally submitted as a question on our old Trebrown forum.

“Hello! (sorry in advance for my bad english) I received today my orders, all is perfect, thank you. I ordere Musa formosana and I looked for some informations about this specimen and I found nothing. Could you please give me another name or a link with internet or a title of a book (French books on banana are very rare! Thanks in advance. Regards. Hervé”

Young Musa formosana plant in the mountains of Taiwan. Copyright © Phil Markey

Young Musa formosana plant in the mountains of Taiwan. Copyright © Phil Markey

These are the official names given at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew:

Musa basjoo var. formosana (Warb.) S.S.Ying, Mem. Coll. Agric. Natl. Taiwan Univ. 25: 100 (1985). === Musa formosana (Warb.) Hayata Musa formosana (Warb.) Hayata, Icon. Pl. Formosan. 6(Suppl.): 83 (1917). Taiwan. 38 TAI. Herb. phan. * Musa × paradisiaca var. formosana Warb.

This is a locally common species in the mountains of Taiwan. But until now it is totally unknown in cultivation.

Kew have now officially recognized the name ‘Musa formosanaMusa formosana (Warb.) Hayata, Icon. Pl. Formosan. 6(Suppl.): 83 (1917). Taiwan. 38 TAI. Herb. phan. * Musa × paradisiaca var. formosana Warb.

I just ordered these seeds from you a month or so ago, and am wondering what the performance has been in the UK? I think seeds were introduced previously, but I’m not sure. It’s supposed to look like a dwarf Basjoo right? Thanks Kyle.

Musa formosana banana plant with fruit. High mountains of Taiwan. Copyright © Phil Markey

Musa formosana banana plant with fruit. High mountains of Taiwan. Copyright © Phil Markey

Kyle, I did bring some over 3 years ago, but I didn’t sell any and I killed all the ones I grew through neglect. As far as I know nobody other than myself has had them in cultivation until now (2006). They can grow quite a bit larger than M. basjoo. Well taller anyway! It depends on the environment. If I had my scanner working I would show you some pictures. I collect the seeds myself, and I have seeds from 3 different locations. One location is the highest locality in the north of Taiwan (all of these seeds I’m growing myself to test hardiness against the others). The seeds that I’m selling come from high altitude central Taiwan. I’ll have more of these here soon. And I also have some that came from much lower altitude in the south of Taiwan. These plants were the tallest of the 3. They’re all germinating well, and the plants are coming on. But it will take a while to know the hardiness extent. I’ll be looking for Musa insularimontana on Lan yu island on my next Taiwan expedition. I guess you’d be interested in those Kyle.

See the Musa formosana species information in the Trebrown Species Database