The fruits of the Christmas palm flush a deep crimson in winter, hanging pendulously from the trees and resembling enormous Christmas ornaments—no wonder we call this fabulous warmth-loving palm a Christmas palm.
Botanically, the common name Christmas palm, also known as the manila palm or Adonidia palm, is considered either Veitchia merrillii or Adonidia merrillii, and it is often grown in Florida, generally South Florida. It is sometimes confused with the royal palm, but it is smaller, reaching only about 15 feet. In fact, it is referred to as a dwarf royal palm.
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Propagation of this palm is always through seed. To grow the Christmas palm (USDA hardiness zone 10 to 12) from its seeds, some experts recommend soaking the seeds, while others claim that the seeds do perfectly fine on their own without pre-soaking. Either way, once the palm seeds germinate, you are halfway toward growing your own Christmas palm tree.
Gathering and prepping Christmas palm tree seeds
The Christmas palm fruits ripen in winter. However, wait to harvest the fruits for their seeds until they are fully crimson or fall from the tree because unripe seeds are unlikely to germinate.
Soaking the seeds may help speed germination and can effectively remove the fleshy fruit pulp so you can access the seeds. To soak them, cover them in water for 72 hours, changing the water every 24 hours. This will soften the fruit pulp so that you can remove it easily using a small paring knife.
Soaking the seeds for 72 hours helps ensure a higher germination rate.
Some growers report that the seeds sprout so quickly that visible roots develop through the fruity pulp during the 72-hour soaking, although this depends on a number of factors. Whether they have germinated at this stage or not, prepare a solution of 10 percent bleach to 90 percent water and soak them briefly; the key to a high rate of germination is sanitation, and you want to be sure to kill off any pathogens. After soaking, rinse the seed well to remove the bleach.
Planting Christmas palm seeds
Avoid shallow potting trays. The Christmas palm has a deep root system, so choose pots that are 8 to 10 inches deep to allow the roots to develop. Add sterile potting soil, and plant seeds shallowly so that the tip of each seed is barely visible. Place the seed flat or pots in a warm location where you can maintain a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit—the warmer, the better, as the seeds will germinate best in a warm environment.
Various Florida nurseries and experts report that Christmas palm seeds are easy to germinate and generally take from one to three months.
Christmas palm plant care
There is no need to fertilize the young palm seedlings for at least two months after germination. Prepare to transplant them before they become rootbound, but when at least one leaf has appeared.
Plant your Christmas palm in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soil in a warm location. This palm is cold hardy down to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but it cannot handle even that cold a temperature for sustained periods.
Once planted, the Christmas palm requires little care or maintenance. Prune it occasionally to remove brown and dead leaves. It is, however, susceptible to a condition called lethal yellowing, which results in the premature dropping of almost all its fruit, along with foliar discoloration. If this occurs, consult a specialist because treatment requires an injection of an antibiotic not readily available to home gardeners.