Germinating Gastrococos – Quickly and Easily

 

CHRIS MIGLIACCIO
Dept. of Natural Sciences, Health & Wellness,
Miami-Dade Community College
300 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, Florida 33157, USA
cmigliac@mdcc.edu
Gastrococos crispa is considered a difficult palm to germinate because of the thick seed coat. A quick and reliable germination technique is presented here.

 

Reprinted with permission to post on palms.org from the Vol. 46, No 2, Palms (formerly Principes), Journal of the International Palm Society
© 2002 The International Palm Society,
All rights reserved
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.

Local 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 “seed.”

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 readily available.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank South Florida palm enthusiasts John Bishock, Dale Holton and Howard Waddell for sharing their Gastrococos growing techniques with me.


1. Drawing of pot used to germinate Gastrococos.

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2. Gastrococos endocarps, whole and sectioned.
Gastrococos endocarps, whole and sectioned.
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3. The saxophone stem of Gastrococos.
The saxophone stem of Gastrococos.
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4. Photo of juvenile Gastrococos next to Vivian Waddell in Howard and Vivian Waddell’s garden in South Florida (Photo. C. Migliaccio).
juvenile Gastrococos next to Vivian Waddell in Howard and Vivian Waddell’s garden in South Florida
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