Many of us like to save the seed from a good fruit that we’ve bought at a market or–dare it be mentioned–stolen from someone else’s tree.
The big question is whether it’s worth it or not. Fruit from a seed may take as long as six years before finding out whether an orange seed gives us good tasty fruit. The reason for the uncertainty is that each seed is the result of the mating of genetically different parents. The re-arrangement of the chromosomes of the offspring is entirely at random so it’s surprising that saved seed (often referred to as “Heirloom”) preserves the original characteristics. Self-pollinated plants (and tomatoes are a good example)give us the best expectations. Some orchard fruit trees require a specific pollinator variety and this means that the farmer must plant extra trees that don’t necessarily have desirable fruit for the sake of the main crop that he sells. Plants that bear both male and female flowers (such as squashes and melons) rely on insects to carry the pollen from one flower to another and the chances of undesirable offspring are increased. At the extreme end of the spectrum are those plants that rely on wind pollination (corn is the prime example) and they give us the wildest chances of getting seed that reflects the right combination of characteristics that we so admired in the store-bought sweet corn that we enjoyed so much.
Datepalm trees come in two kinds–female and male–and their propagation by seed is extremely unreliable. Growers avoid this uncertainty by separating offshoots from the best mother plant they can find and planting them. This is hard work and calls for good planting conditions.
Nevertheless I am so enjoying a box of Medjool dates that I got as a gift that I’m going against all reasonable advice and shall raise my own plants from the seed. It may be a fool’s errand but it’s an interesting challenge.
First, knowing that the seeds are very hard, I soaked them for a month in water, changing it every day to avoid molds and bacteria. After about six weeks little white short bumps appeared in the middle of the long pointed seeds. It was surprising but it told me one of two things–the bumps will grow into either a green shoot or a white root. I had expected growth activity at the ends of the seed.
Meanwhile, I had sown some seed in a tray of soil, but did I sow them the “right way up”? I reasoned that I should follow Mother Nature’s way–by throwing up the seed and sowing them the way they landed. I still didn’t know which way was “up” and which was “down”. Four seeds in the tray of soil eventually appeared above ground. Two were actually pushed up into the air and a stout thread turned to re-enter the soil, leaving the seed an inch in the air. These threads were brownish and the seeds were unopened. Surely these are roots, I thought. And so I went back to the reserve of water soaked seeds and sowed some with their little white bumps facing down.
And then something strange happened. Among the first sown seeds there appeared two straight upright cylindrical shoots with a suspicion of a green tinge to them. These must be leaf shoots, I thought.
Now, I’m going to have a third tray into which I’ll sow seeds with the little white bumps uppermost in case those growth bumps are shoots and not roots. In passing, most germinating seeds produce roots first (in order to anchor things down) and then the green shoots come later. Maybe dates are different.
Why am I doing all this against established advice? I know the box of Medjool dates comes from a commerical grove where trees are planted close together. This minimises casual pollination from trees in the countryside. Further, these female trees are hand pollinated when the flowers appear in the spring. Workers go up thirty feet or more to dust the flowers from a bag of pollen that was collected from Medjool male trees last year. Then the flower cluster is bagged off to avoid any subsequent pollination from other trees’ pollen carried by the wind. Admittedly, the chromosomes will be re-arranged after the hand pollination and the seed will possibly be a bit genetically different–but only a little.
In my little game plan I won’t get to see the outcome (good dates to eat) but I will enjoy an achievement in getting to know how to grow an ornamental date plant in a container. Maybe my children will eventually get the good fruit and so I’ll be emulating those patient landowners of old who planted trees for the next generation, and not for themselves.