|Gastrococos crispa is a solitary, swollen-trunked
palm native to the alkaline savannas of Cuba. It is cultivated worldwide in
the humid tropics and warm subtropics because of its unique beauty (Back
Cover). However, while mature specimens in South Florida regularly
fruit, this palm has a reputation as being difficult to germinate.
growers have reported that the key to germinating Gastrococos is heat
and humidity, and have described such strategies as placing seeds in plastic
ziplock bags and placing them in trays on rooftops or in attics, burying the
seeds in compost piles and then digging out the seedlings, or planting seeds
in community pots of decomposing oak leaves and pine needles. Time to
germination has always been measured in months to a year. So, after many
years of unsuccessful attempts to germinate Gastrococos myself with
the traditional methods (community pots or ziplock bags of damp sphagnum
moss kept in warm locations), I decided to try to increase the heat and
humidity as much as possible.
Fig. 1 shows a simple and inexpensive
method I developed that results in a germination rate of over 90% in as
short a time as two weeks during our summer season.
An important key to success is to use fresh seeds. Ripe fruits are
orange-yellow and contain an irregularly globose, pitted, black endocarp 2–4
mm thick that contains the seed (Fig. 2).
Throughout this paper, I refer to the endocarp and seed together as the
The key to this method is finding the largest plastic pot that easily
fits inside a bucket with a tight-fitting lid. This enables the maximum
number of seeds to “steam.” A 25-cm (10-inch) pot in a 20-liter (5-gallon)
bucket holds about 35 seeds in a single surface layer. This technique is
upwardly scalable for larger seed quantities as long as temperature and
humidity are maintained at a high level.
During the time of this trial (May–September 2001), daily air
temperatures ranged from 26–33ºC (78–92ºF) while water temperatures in the
bottom of the bucket ranged from 26ºC (78ºF) after four days of cloudy
weather to 33ºC (92ºF), the typical daytime water temperature. Soil
temperature around the seeds ranged from 27ºC (80ºF) at night to 43ºC
(110ºF) (daytime under sunny conditions). Humidity inside the bucket was not
measured but was very high. No condensation was observed on the walls or lid
of the bucket. Using this method, I have been able to germinate
Gastrococos in as short a time as two weeks, with four weeks being the
average time. Because Gastrococos has remote germination, once the
cotyledonary stalk emerges from the seed, I carefully remove the seedling
and place it in its own pot with a well-drained mix. The first seedling leaf
is visible above the soil in about 2–3 weeks after the cotyledonary stalk
emerges. All leaves have golden-brown prickles – making handling the
seedling a matter for care. The stem is descending shortly and recurved
“saxophone style” (Fig. 3).
In South Florida, it takes about 6–8 years before the palm begins to
develop an upright stem with overlapping leaves that precedes trunk
development. Even at this stage, Gastrococos is a showy addition to
any garden and is deserving of wider cultivation (Fig.
4). Perhaps with this germination method, plants will become more
I would like to thank South Florida palm enthusiasts John Bishock, Dale
Holton and Howard Waddell for sharing their Gastrococos growing
techniques with me.