A ripe cluster of pindo palm (Butia capitata) fruit reclines against a leaf stem - for easiest germination collect the fruit as it drops to the ground. The pindo's flesh, although fibrous, has a delicious fruity flavor. In the Deep South the fruit is collected in late summer and made into jelly (this palm is also called the "jelly palm").
Over the years I've tried many different methods to germinate palm seeds. Some methods that I've tried are very complex, but I've learned that for most species, the simpler techniques work just fine. Presented here are the results of my experiences over the years: an easy method which yields success. Follow these guidelines and you can maximize your success germinating palm seeds.
Harvest the seeds...
It's best to collect seeds when the palm fruit is completely ripe or as soon as it falls from the tree. The fresher the seed, the better results you will have. The probability of successfully germinating palm seeds decreases with time. The time that seeds remain viable varies widely, from weeks to years, even among trees of the same species.
The fleshy pulp was not removed from these seeds and is now being attacked by fungus.
Palm seeds are enclosed in a fleshy or fibrous skin, or wall, that generally should be removed before germination. The removal of the fleshy part of the fruit maximizes germination chances and minimizes the chance of fungus growth and other seed contamination. Caution: some palm seeds contain an irritant that may aggravate your skin. For example, you may want to wear rubber gloves when cleaning Chamaedorea seeds.
It is best to plant the palm seed right after cleaning. If this is not possible, seal the seed in a plastic bag, and store at about 65-75º F (18-24ºC).
soak them... Before planting, soak the seed in clean water for at least one day. If you have more time, you can maximize the chances of germination by soaking the seed for seven days at room temperature and changing the water every day. The fact that some seeds float and others may sink is not a universal sign of how viable the seed is. For example, seeds of some palm species are dispersed by floating, while other palm seeds may not float at all.
Soak the seeds in a 10% bleach solution - I use a shot glass - mix 1 shot of laundry bleach with 10 shots of water.
sterilize them... After soaking in water, dip the seeds in a 10% solution of household bleach (one part bleach to ten parts water) to minimize the chance of fungal growth. Use waterproof gloves or a tool to dip the seeds into the solution briefly, and then rinse the seeds thoroughly.
Use any good soil mix that is well drained. Many use a commercial potting or seed-starting mix that contains sand or other inert material (Perlite, vermiculate, etc.), that ensures good drainage. Seeds need to be kept medium wet to damp to maximize germination success.
A golden rule: never let the seeds dry out as they may die!. Also, ensure the soil has good drainage since overly wet soil can eventually lead to the seed rotting.
Use a pencil to drill a hole in the soil and insert the palm seed so that it is just peeking above the soil line.
Plant the seeds just even with the surface of the planting medium. This allows you to view the seed and still keeps enough soil around it to keep it uniformly moist. You may plant a number of seeds in a pot. Allow enough space between them for the young plant to begin development.
Germinating seeds need warmth, not light. Keep the seeds warm in a temperature range of about 70-100ºF (21-38ºC). Keep the seeds in the shade or indoors and out of direct sunlight. Sunlight may provide warmth to seeds, but inevitably leads to the seeds drying out... a number-one enemy of seed germination.
...and wait... How long will palm seeds take to germinate and how many seeds will germinate? Palms seeds generally are erratic in germination. Different species, and even seeds from the same species take different times to germinate. Some seeds will be viable, and some will not be viable. Although estimates vary widely, about 75% of palm species take less than 100 days for their seeds to germinate.
...then enjoy! Following these guidelines will maximize your chances for successfully germinating palms. With attention to the little details, you can germinate some magnificent palms!
See Floridata's Palm List for links to more than 75 palm Profiles.