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.